Related stories: Rivalry at its Best
Sept. 18, 2007, was Steamboat Day. The Steamboat Springs soccer team was playing at Battle Mountain, and that always is one of the most significant days on my beat covering sports for the Vail Daily newspaper.
Battle Mountain-Eagle Valley is the rivalry here in Eagle County — except in soccer, where it’s all about Steamboat Springs.
Those games are marked on the calendar the instant the schedule is announced. That’s because the road to the 4A Western Slope League title usually goes through the Huskies or the Sailors. Since 2000, the schools have won 11 of 13 crowns (Glenwood Springs won in 2002 and Eagle Valley in 2008).
At the very least, Battle Mountain-Steamboat always proves memorable.
Let there be light
Battle Mountain has had a recent run of success, culminating in the 4A state title last fall, but that wasn’t always the case.
Steamboat had a rival from Eagle County in the 1990s. It was the Vail Mountain School. Back in 1997, when I started at the Vail Daily, the 3A Western Slope League was ruled by Steamboat and Vail Mountain in its East Division and Aspen and Glenwood in the West.
Battle Mountain was an afterthought. Steamboat-Battle Mountain get-togethers were a rivalry in only the aspirational sense. The Sailors were everything the Huskies wanted to be but simply weren’t. If the Huskies scored a goal against Steamboat, it was considered a victory.
When the Huskies joined 4A in 2000 (after the Sailors in 1998), coach Dave Cope decided the Huskies would host Steamboat under the lights at the old Huskies Stadium. According to Cope, the kids wanted a home night game, and he obliged them. He’s a nice guy, but he also was hoping to box in the more athletic Sailors on a tighter pitch.
The Sailors won the first of the three annual night games, 3-0, in 2000, and Cope joked, “Next year, we’ll play them on a tennis court.”
Although Steamboat still was posting the results, Cope was building his program, and it finally came through in the 2002 night game in Eagle-Vail, now known as The Sean Reynolds Game. The aforementioned senior scored late, giving the Huskies a 2-2 draw.
That draw gave Glenwood, instead of Steamboat, the Western Slope crown. Cope wanted the Vail Daily to run the headline, “Battle Mountain beats Steamboat, 2-2.”
The tide turns
That was the last time the Huskies and Sailors met under the lights until Battle Mountain moved to Edwards and its 80-yard-wide pitch in 2009. In 2003, the Huskies and Sailors became equals, as Battle Mountain won the second meeting of the year between the two teams, 2-0.
I think this remains the biggest win in Cope’s career. Of course, there were some monstrous wins in 2012, most notably the state title game against Palmer Ridge and the quarterfinal at Evergreen.
But before Battle Mountain could face Evergreen in 2012, the team had to beat Steamboat. None of the league titles that followed (2004 to 2007 and 2010 to 2012) could have happened without the Huskies finally knocking off the Sailors in 2003.
A new coach
Battle Mountain girls soccer got a new coach for the 2004 season: Cope. Just like Battle Mountain’s boys had to do in the fall, the girls had to climb the Steamboat mountain. In 2006, the Huskies drew with the Sailors, 1-1, and it was like Sean Reynolds all over again.
“Battle Mountain wins, 1-1,” Cope said at the time.
After 15 tries dating to 1997 — Steamboat was 12-0-2 during that time — the Huskies finally nabbed the Sailors, 3-1, on March 22, 2007. Battle Mountain won consecutive league crowns in 2007 and 2008 with a cumulative regular season of 29-0-1. (Naturally, the tie was against the Sailors.)
Throughout the years, there have been classics on the boys and girls sides.
In fall 2006, the boy Huskies had won two straight league titles and opened the league season at home against Steamboat. The Sailors scored in stoppage time for a 3-2 stunner. That left the Huskies 0-1-1 overall to start the season, and Camp Battle Mountain was doubting the chances of a three-peat.
April 15, 2008, is probably one of my favorite moments of the girls rivalry. The Huskies were the juggernaut in the middle of that 29-0-1 run but could not get one past the Sailors until Lizzie Seibert struck in the 78th minute. It was a good goal but a great moment because of the shot that our photographer Preston Utley took afterward of Seibert, arms stretched like an airplane in celebration.
Perhaps the 2009 boys season involved the most mayhem. The rivals tied in both their meetings. In fact, Steamboat and Battle Mountain were so intertwined, they both finished with 8-0-4 league records. On the final day of the season, the Huskies and Eagle Valley played to a 0-0 draw — the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s Luke Graham and I were texting madly during our respective games, keeping each other posted — and that gave Steamboat the league title even though neither team had lost a league game.
As a reporter, Battle Mountain boys soccer took me on the ride of a lifetime by going 20-0 and winning the whole shooting match. About the only thing that was a downer was that, at least for one year, the Steamboat-Battle Mountain rivalry dried up. The Huskies took care of business last fall by an aggregate score of 9-0. When the Huskies won the second game between the two teams, 4-0, there was no celebration.
Mercifully, the spring rolled around, and the girls teams straightened things out. Battle Mountain 2, Steamboat 2. Battle Mountain 1, Steamboat 1. And, boy, did both teams look like they had lost after that second draw. That’s much more like it.
When Cope’s and Rob Bohlmann’s teams meet this fall, the Huskies will be a different team from 2012 — not as good as last year but not as depleted as some might think. Meanwhile, the Sailors will be looking for some payback.
Game on. Mark your calendars.
Chris Freud is the sports editor for the Vail Daily in Eagle County, and he has been working for the newspaper since 1997.