Steamboat Springs It was a game that meant nothing and, already facing a big deficit, they were goals that meant close to it.
Still, every time the Steamboat Springs High School girls junior varsity lacrosse team scored Wednesday in a 10-3 season finale home loss to Battle Mountain, the girls danced. They threw up their arms, they dished out high fives and they boogied up until the second play resumed.
The loss was the third in an all-too-brief, four-game season, but the miracle was that the team was playing at all, and the girls couldn’t help but celebrate that.
“It’s just a fun sport,” freshman Aleigh Aurin said. “This season, it’s just been a blast.”
The last decade has seen lacrosse sweep into Steamboat Springs like the Beatles into America. The city’s youth boys program has flourished and developed into a strong feeder system for the ever-more-talented high school team.
Girls lacrosse, meanwhile, has lagged behind. There’s no youth league and little infrastructure. There was a high school team, one that season in and season out had to fight to just have enough numbers to field a team.
It lost that fight two springs ago, and last year, Steamboat was without any high school girls lacrosse presence.
That changed this spring with a new junior varsity program, coached by Betsy Frick.
“Everyone was brand spanking new,” Frick said. “It was all teaching basics. I had one ninth-grader who had played some before. But I was really pleased. They caught on.”
It wasn’t always pretty, but the development of girls lacrosse in the mountain region has long been a process of starts and stops.
Officials at Wednesday’s game spent time explaining the rules and repeatedly had to explain where the field’s boundaries were.
At the bottom of the crowded spring sports world, the team struggled even to find a time and a place to practice.
“In February, most of our practices were from 8 p.m. to 9,” Frick said. “We practiced in the hall and in the gyms. Once we shared a gym with the discus throwers. We decided pretty quickly we wouldn’t do that again.”
Steamboat never has had a sub available on the sideline and played one game with nine players. In another, a game against Fruita Monument that turned out to be the team’s lone win, Steamboat “borrowed” a player so it could field a full squad of 12.
But it kept improving. Wednesday’s 10-3 loss was a step up from the 18-1 drubbing the same team dealt Steamboat earlier in the season.
“You could see it as we got better and better,” said freshman Hailey Gray, one of the few players who had ever played before.
Growing the seeds
Frick said she always knew she’d coach lacrosse at some point. She learned to love the sport growing up in New England, and she played at William & Mary in Virginia.
She coached private lessons while living in Georgia, but first coached cross-country skiing at the Steamboat Nordic Center when she moved to Steamboat nearly two years ago.
“Last spring, a couple parents approached me and asked if I would be willing to do a couple clinics,” Frick said.
That toe in the water started things, and now she’s taken it largely on herself to teach the game she loves to her new hometown.
That hasn’t been an impossible task, she explained.
Neill Redfern, who built Steamboat’s boys youth program into a powerful system, offered support but couldn’t volunteer any extra time.
The school allowed Frick to test the waters for a new team, and coaches from other schools were eager to offer Steamboat games, even if the team was short on players and playing only at the JV level.
The luckiest break came in an almost forgotten bank account where the previous high school girls lacrosse effort had stored fundraising proceeds. The school allowed Frick’s new effort to use those funds, and it helped this year’s team to exist.
The outlook is hopeful. The girls that saw game action this year — none of whom played on the last varsity team — claim to be eager to come back. Frick hopes to establish another series of summer camps and draw in another big crew of young players.
The funds in the program’s account should last through another season.
“They paid for everything themselves this year. If they went to a full varsity schedule, it would be tough,” Steamboat Athletic Director Luke DeWolfe said. “This season was a good first step.”
DeWolfe said it could take a few more seasons of gradual progress for the program to reach varsity status.
“As far as long-term status, it depends on a couple of things,” he said. “You need a good feeder program. The coach needs to be willing to get really actively involved in recruiting kids. It really takes a special person, someone willing to work through the summer and not just have the idea that the sport is an in-season activity. You have to have success, and you need to build on that success, build a fundamental base. Then you can get it to something like what we’ve seen with boys lacrosse.
“When a program can just build and build like that, good things tend to happen.”