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 Call it the moment of clarity.
It was the 68th minute on a calm autumn night at Gardner Field. The Battle Mountain boys soccer team was ahead of Steamboat Springs, 3-0.
The win was assured.
Right then and there, it became apparent that Battle Mountain was better than just winning the Western Slope League. It was apparent, right at that moment, that Battle Mountain was good enough to win a state championship.
Steamboat Springs had a corner kick. The ball trickled out to Huskies junior Roberto Diaz. Diaz raced the ball up the middle of the field. Senior Joe LyBarger had started behind the play but sprinted 90 yards to catch up to the ball. He took a pass from Diaz just inside the left box, crossed it to Heivan Garcia — who had sprinted 80 yards down the field himself — for an easy goal.
It made it 4-0, an inconsequential goal but a defining goal of the season.
What does it say about a team when its three best players all sprint the length of the field to cap a gorgeous goal in a game that already has been decided?
It tells just how special this Battle Mountain team is. It tells just how special this run is.
Soccer on the Western Slope has been defined by the two mountain schools. Steamboat and Battle Mountain have waged classic battles for years.
But since the start of high school boys soccer in 1975 and girls soccer in 1978, just two Western Slope soccer teams have won state championships.
The Hotchkiss boys team won the Class 3A state championship in 2008, and the Steamboat girls won the 3A title in 1998. Outside that, state soccer championships have had a distinct and overwhelming Front Range flavor.
It’s been even more lopsided since Steamboat and Battle Mountain shifted to Class 4A.
This year, however, Battle Mountain has erased past demons and created a history all its own.
It beat Evergreen — who it lost to the three previous years in the playoffs — to get into the Final Four. It beat four-time state champion Broomfield on Wednesday to advance to the state championship.
It’s a big deal.
As Steamboat coach Rob Bohlmann explained, it’s not as if this group of Battle Mountain players showed up on the first day of practice and made this happen.
No, the team's state championship run that could conclude Saturday has been 10 years in the making. Battle Mountain coach Dave Cope kept this group together, made them forge an identity and never allowed them not to believe. He found a way to seamlessly integrate the Hispanic community into the program, breaking down barriers in the process.
“That’s one thing that is special and unique to our mountain communities,” Bohlmann said. “The guys you are playing with are the guys you’ve played with, give or take, since you were 10 years old. Going to Broomfield, it’s the guys you play your high school years with.
“Battle Mountain’s players have played together for a long time,” he continued. “That is an advantage. They know each other very well, and it shows in their play.”
Come 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, Battle Mountain will play No. 1 Palmer Ridge for the state title.
It’s a nod to the Huskies that they’re there. It’s a tip of the cap to Cope, one of the best coaches in the state.
Most importantly, it’s a big win for soccer in this part of the state. Often overlooked, and now finally appreciated.
To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com