Luke Graham.

staff

Luke Graham.

Luke Graham: Next step? A playoff victory

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— If there is one thing to be said about Steamboat Springs High School lacrosse, it’s that the program has grown and improved every year.

On the surface, losing in the first round in each of the past two seasons — Steamboat’s first two ventures into the state playoffs — might suggest the program didn’t improve much.

But the 2009 loss to Lewis-Palmer and the 2010 loss to Fairview were much different.

In 2009, Lewis-Palmer dominated the game at times. Saturday against Fairview, there wasn’t really dominance from either side.

The two teams were evenly matched. The game could have gone either way.

It was clear this Steamboat team had improved.

The Sailors in the past two seasons have started a tradition. They’ve won the Mountain Conference two years in a row and have made the playoffs two years running. Doing stuff like that makes the next group want to not just do the same thing, but do it better.

“We’ve progressed every year here,” Steamboat coach Bob Hiester said. “This was another step. We’re much further ahead this year than we were last year.”

So the big question now for the program is, how does it take the next step?

Obviously, scheduling more Front Range opponents, like the team did this season, helped. But it would be good to see tougher Front Range teams.

The Steamboat Youth Lacr­osse program continues to bring more and more children into the sport at an early age. Just look at the freshman team that has rolled through the season. Many of those players have been together since fifth grade. Feeder programs are clearly a route to success at the high school level.

But maybe the biggest thing for the growth and development of the program, however, is out of Steamboat’s control.

The team has run through the Mountain Conference two years in a row. Only Summit really has given Steamboat a game. Winning, 15-1, consistently doesn’t do a lot for a program.

For Steamboat to consistently improve, the Mountain Conference has to improve.

That means Summit, Aspen, Battle Mountain, Eagle Valley, Grand Junction and Fruita-Monument have to take the next step.

Signs are there that it will happen. Summit qualified for the playoffs this season for the first time.

All the other programs are in their infancy, much like Steamboat was just five years ago.

No doubt, all the Mountain Conference teams will be better next year. Steamboat inevitably will be better, as well.

Hiester pointed to the fact that the only way to actually get better is to continue to work. But it’s never too early to set goals.

Next year’s team should try to duplicate the success of the past two. But the barometer should be a playoff win.

That means the 2011 Steamboat Springs High School lacrosse team now is on the clock.

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