Steamboat Springs Taking criticism has never been a problem for the Steamboat Springs High School boys basketball team.
They're too short. They play in a smaller league. They don't play enough tough teams in the regular season.
The Sailors have heard it all.
So, when losing 17-15 to Fort Morgan at halftime Friday night, a spirited speech by coach Kelly Meek wasn't going to break Steamboat down.
Seniors Aaron Calkins and Colby Kostur laughed when asked what was said during Friday's halftime break. So what did Meek say to turn a two-point deficit into an 18-point win?
"We don't have 'back down' in us, I guarantee that," Meek said. "Fort Morgan won it in the first half. The loose balls and the rebounding. Then it changed. We came out of the locker room and challenged the kids. There was no self-esteem boosters. It was all about challenging their toughness and our kids took it to heart."
But it's the ability to take that criticism and run with it that makes Meek feel confident about this Friday's game against Pueblo West - or any team Steamboat might play.
Sixth-seeded Pueblo West (15-10) beat third-seeded Sierra on Friday night, 55-52. The Cyclones trailed for much of the game - including by nine points going into the fourth quarter - before hitting a late 3-pointer to spring the upset.
Meek said he expects a tough, scrappy team like Fort Morgan to show up Friday night. He also said there's no hiding the atmosphere that Steamboat is about to see.
With Pueblo West only 45 miles from Widefield High School, Meek said the contest almost equates to a home game for the Cyclones.
"I like where we're at, I really do," Meek said. "We look forward to going on the road into a great atmosphere. Our kids are good with that and know that as coaches, we like that. We embrace the crowds on the road that are aggressive and dynamic. Our guys don't look at that wide-eyed."
So, if things get tough Friday, Meek said he's not worried how his team will react. The veteran coach said this group of players has been through too much to let things get to them.
"It's extremely important because every possession means a lot," Meek said. "They have to have that ability to get onto the next possession. They have to have that mental toughness. We're looking forward to the challenge of the next level. They have to have the ability to have composure under fire. To get to the next possession and next play."
The Steamboat Springs boys basketball team will play Pueblo West at 7 p.m. Friday at Widefield High School in Colorado Springs.
The game was originally supposed to be played at 5:15 p.m.
Instead, Widefield - the top seed in the bracket - will play No. 4 Thomas Jefferson at 5:15 p.m.
Saturday's championship game is tentatively set for 1 p.m.