Luke Graham's column appears periodically in the Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4229 or lgraham@SteamboatToday.com.
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Understandably, there was a lot of excitement around the Steamboat Springs High School boys lacrosse program last season.
After years and years of climbing its way up to respectability, the Sailors team finally earned a shot at the postseason by winning the inaugural year of the Mountain Conference. Getting to the playoffs was the primary goal.
Anything after that was just a bonus.
Flash forward a year, with mostly the same players, and getting to the playoffs isn’t a goal. It’s expected.
Winning the league isn’t something players just want to do. It’s something that, coming into this season, players almost knew they would do.
That’s a sign of the maturation of the program.
After breezing through the Mountain Conference last season before falling to Lewis-Palmer in the playoffs, the program’s next step became evident.
The schedule was redone to include Front Range teams.
The purpose of that change was twofold. First, it allowed Steamboat to see a better brand of competition. Secondly, when the playoff brackets are announced and seeds are doled out, those on the selection committee will have a better barometer of how good Steamboat actually is.
Now with a second Mountain Conference title wrapped up and 20 straight regular season conference wins, the sense around the program isn’t just about getting to the playoffs.
It’s about advancing in them.
The Sailors approached this season like hard workers approach their business. Steamboat showed up, put in the work and came out on the other side a little better.
Outside of Summit, who Steamboat easily beat, 6-3, there weren’t many challenges in the Mountain Conference. Steamboat knew this. Coaches and players wouldn’t say it, but the Sailors were and are the best team in the conference.
But you couldn’t tell that by the way the team played in the season.
It just went about its business and didn’t worry much about other teams.
That’s where the biggest step in the program has come. Players didn’t just eye the conference title or a playoff spot.
That’s so last year.
This year, it’s about advancing in the playoffs. That’s the next step.
It would mean a lot for Steamboat to win a playoff game. It would be a win for the entire Western Slope and for mountain towns with lacrosse programs that are years behind the Front Range.
Steamboat should find itself in a similar seed to last season. They’ll probably be seeded anywhere from 12th to 18th. They may even host another playoff game.
But whereas last season the team was just happy to be in the playoffs, this season, the only way you’ll see a smile is with a playoff win.
— To reach Luke Graham, call 871-4229 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org