Luke Graham's column appears periodically in the Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4229 or lgraham@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs High School girls basketball coach John Ameen joked that the weekend took years off his life.
The Sailors won two games, both by the score of 45-44. On Friday, a late three-pointer by Hannah Moore made the difference against Delta. On Saturday, pure hustle by senior Emi Birch downed Palisade.
Birch, whose best sport is soccer, made a layup and got fouled to cut the deficit to 44-43. She missed the free throw, grabbed her own rebound, made another layup and got fouled again.
Ahead 45-44, Birch missed her free throw, but Palisade’s last, desperation shot also missed.
Although the weekend kept Steamboat perfect in the Western Slope League at 4-0 — and possibly took some time off Ameen’s life — it spoke more to the absolute turnaround happening with the Steamboat girls program.
Not long ago, the Sailors were downright awful. They were young and couldn’t keep up with teams in the league.
Ameen started coaching the girls four years ago and said at the time that he knew it would be a process.
That process meant taking some lumps. But each year, the Sailors have gotten better. Last season, the team seemingly would take first half leads in league games before finding ways to lose in the second half. It happened again and again.
The difference now, however, is that instead of finding ways to lose, Steamboat simply finds ways to win.
So being down seven to Palisade with five minutes left Saturday wasn’t a big deal. Being down three with 30 seconds left didn’t matter, either.
Ameen, always the perfectionist, said the differences this year are simple.
This year, with an experienced team, the Sailors simply handle adversity better.
While the girls on the team have bought into a system and progressed throughout the years, the growth of Ameen has been at the forefront, as well.
The coach has been able to get his girls to buy into his system, and as a coach, he’s starting to realize the best ways to get the most out of players.
Maybe the biggest thing has been Steamboat’s defense. While the offense hasn’t totally clicked this season, the defense has been a constant strength.
Whereas in years past, Steamboat’s play on the defensive end would be up and down, this season it’s been the driving force leading to a 9-3 overall record.
The defense is stingy and downright un-fun to play against.
Yes, the season still is young. There still are plenty more games, including ones that will be tougher than the first four.
But at this point, it’s evident this is, in fact, a different and much better Steamboat Springs girls basketball team.
— To reach Luke Graham, call 871-4229
or e-mail email@example.com