Luke Graham

Luke Graham

Luke Graham: Western Slope realities

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Luke Graham

Luke Graham's column appears periodically in the Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4229 or lgraham@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Luke here.

Now this, from the head-scratching and hair-pulling department.

The Steamboat Springs High School soccer team won’t make the Class 4A state playoffs despite finishing with nine wins and in third place overall in the Western Slope League.

The WSL gets five spots in the playoffs, but the Colorado High School Activities Asso­ciation dictates that the South­western League gets two of those.

The spots are determined on a point system. Four points for a win against a team in a higher classification and three points for a win against a team in the same or lower classification.

Durango, Montrose — this year’s qualifiers from the Southwestern League — and Montezuma-Cortez make up that portion of the teams vying for entrance into the Class 4A playoff bracket.

That’s not the unfair part. Those three teams play in a sector of Colorado where getting games isn’t the easiest.

But here’s where the head scratching and hair pulling comes in this year.

The Western Slope’s qualifiers are Battle Mountain, the league champion and a darn good program with one of the best coaches in the state; Moffat County, who earned second place in the WSL via beating Steamboat twice this season; and the previously mentioned Durango and Montrose.

The fifth?

That private school we all love to complain about — Mullen.

If you’re scratching your head, you’re probably not alone. But according to CHSAA’s soccer bulletin, “Mullen will replace the Western Slope No. 5 if it finishes (at) fifth place or higher in the 5A Centennial League.”

Mullen did that and replaced Steamboat as the WSL’s fifth qualifier. But it’s not just the WSL that has a complaint about this.

All of 4A does.

Per the rules, Mullen’s spot rotates among leagues and conferences in 4A. Next year, if the Mustangs again finish fifth place or higher in their league, they’ll occupy a playoff spot in another 4A league or conference.

Mullen and other private schools draw the ire of fans across the state for a variety of reasons and in a variety of sports. Those arguments have been hashed out. Private schools may or may not recruit. They have money, facilities and built-in competitive advantages, like CHSAA allowing them to play a 5A schedule and dropping into 4A for the state playoffs.

It’s like the Texas Rangers playing the entire season in Major League Baseball before dropping down to Triple-A for the playoffs.

Just ask Steamboat volleyball coach Wendy Hall, whose team has had to play in the district tournament the past couple of years against a Mullen team that played a 5A schedule before dropping down.

It’s especially tough for this Steamboat soccer team.

The Sailors weren’t unbelievable in anything they did. But they were the definition of blue collar.

Things likely won’t change until the entire system is reclassified. Plus, all Steamboat sports — at least now — always will struggle to compete in Class 4A.

The enrollment numbers this year make Steamboat the third-smallest school in 4A soccer. Only Fort Lupton and Skyview have fewer students.

But that’s the harsh reality of sports on the Western Slope.

Often underappreciated and always overlooked. And adding stipulations like this just make it that much tougher to compete.

— To reach Luke Graham, call 871-4229 or e-mail lgraham@steamboatpilot.com

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