Steamboat Springs Editor's note: This story has been updated from its original version to make corrections regarding the teams that competed for the U16 girls championship.
Members of the Englewood Eagles ESC Premier U16 girls soccer team stood arm-in-arm Saturday afternoon, facing the goal.
They erupted fives times, once each time a teammate hammered home a penalty kick and a fifth time when an opponent's kick soared just high, deflecting up and over the net, safely out of the way.
That last roar was the loudest, and as soon as the ball rolled safely away from the net - knocked down and out by goalie Mariah Maykowski - the team finally let go of one another and rushed toward the goal.
The margin by which the Eagles advanced to today's final was small - a single penalty kick. The squad's relief, however, was gigantic.
"We really wanted to win," said Elycia Orth, who scored one of the team's penalty kicks. "We almost always make it to the finals here, but we need to win one."
Few games carried the drama of the Eagles' victory against Littleton United United Blue, but the scene was similar across Steamboat on Saturday afternoon as dozens of soccer teams and hundreds of young players fought for a chance to play today in the Steamboat Mountain Tournament finals.
For many, success was important. The tournament started Friday morning and will have included 250 games by the time it wraps up this afternoon. It offered many teams great competition and cracks at squads they've already played this summer or are likely to see later.
The weekend in Steamboat was about plenty of fun, as well.
After tromping victoriously off the field, the Eagles gathered together for a quick talk, and some news: "You can't go tubing without your parents' permission," an adult said. That elicited a sound nearly as loud as the one moments before on the field, with 20 girls simultaneously yelling "Mom? Can I go?"
"We've been up here six years now. Team bonding and fun keep us coming back," Orth said.
Neither of Steamboat's U16 teams managed to advance, and the local players probably already have gotten in a few trips down the Yampa on a tube. The weekend tournament for them was about improving and preparing for the coming season.
Teams ranging in age from U11 to U18 swarmed fields around Steamboat, but competitive minutes on the field might have meant more to the U16 teams than other squads. Old enough to play in high school, many of the Steamboat players had the opportunity to set themselves up for more playing time, first this fall in club soccer leagues, then later in the year when they suit up for Steamboat Springs High School.
"It's definitely good experience, good for these girls to all play together," Steamboat U16 girls coach Julie Wernig said. "They'll all be sophomores next year, so it's a great way to start the whole season. They were a little disappointed in the results, but there were definitely some good moments."
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