Steamboat seniors Ben Wharton, left, and Peter White celebrate White's goal in practice Friday night. The Sailors had their final tune up before Saturday's championship game against Aspen at home. The game starts at 11 a.m.

Photo by Ben Ingersoll

Steamboat seniors Ben Wharton, left, and Peter White celebrate White's goal in practice Friday night. The Sailors had their final tune up before Saturday's championship game against Aspen at home. The game starts at 11 a.m.

Sailors-Skiers boys lacrosse 'for all the marbles'

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— There’s a level of pride from Steamboat Springs High School and Aspen High School boys lacrosse programs with the numbers 54 and 1.

Steamboat points to the number 54 as evidence that in 55 tries, only one team has kept the Sailors from a flawless Mountain Conference record in the program’s history. But they still feel like the conference's elite.

Aspen loves that missing digit in Steamboat’s record. The Skiers point to the 1 in 54-1 as proof that they’re the next top dogs in Mountain lacrosse, an emerging program ready to unseat the conference king.

And back and forth we go.

No. 3 Steamboat and No. 7 Aspen are gearing up for a Saturday showdown at Gardner Field. It’s Steamboat’s chance to avenge a 9-6 loss just three games in to last season, and the Sailors’ only blemish in 55 Mountain Conference games. It’s also Aspen’s chance to spoil its opponent’s current perfect conference record — Steamboat is 8-0 — and shake things up with a tie for first place.

“They have always been a powerhouse,” Aspen coach Mike Goerne said. “And Aspen has always been catching up and closing that gap.”

But the Sailors aren’t ready to hand over the crown just yet.

The Sailors-Skiers de facto conference championship has traces of Steamboat’s attempt to exact revenge against Valor Christian on April 19. The Sailors — looking to erase the memory of an 11-10 loss in 2013 — lost that game a few weeks back, also 11-10.

And Saturday might not feature a slew of “atta boys” between the two teams’ rosters. Steamboat and Aspen players and coaches stop just short of admitting how much they’d love to pummel one another and rub Mountain Conference bragging rights in one another’s face for at least another season.

“When Aspen comes in, there’s definitely a lot of chatter down on the field from what I’ve heard,” Sailors first-year coach Jay Lattimore said. “It’s one of those things where they feel they’re the new bully in the conference, where Steamboat has held that mark for 54 games.”

The teams might have their differences in the friendliness category, but they just about mirror each other in terms of overall records, season outcome and just what makes them the two premier schools in the mountains.

“What we do well is we play as a team,” Goerne said. “You have to beat all of us.”

“Teamwork is definitely very strong with us,” Lattimore said when asked what got the Sailors to 12-1. “We refuse to give up, either up by a couple goals or down by a couple.”

But something has to give Saturday at Gardner Field.

Goerne said his Skiers (12-2, 7-1 conference) are deep and diverse, where no one player’s stats jump out more than any other’s. Steamboat junior Mitch McCannon said his squad doesn’t need to look much farther than last year’s outcome for fuel.

“They were our only loss,” McCannon said. “We came out flat that game, but we’re looking for revenge coming back.”

The playoffs are in sight, and a win or loss could spell the difference between a boost of momentum — not to mention higher seeding and home playoff contests.

Lattimore doesn’t shy away from talking about the prospect of winning the program’s 55th Mountain Conference game and snagging all those playoff perks, but "Saturday, May 3 vs. Aspen" has been circled on the Sailors’ calendars since they were created months before the season kicked off.

“Home game, senior day, Aspen, conference championship, everything has lined up the way it should,” Lattimore said. “This is where we all sit down at the beginning of the season and make the schedules, we put them last and hope it’s a for-all-the-marbles thing.”

Faceoff is at 11 a.m., and Steamboat’s 13 seniors will be honored following the game.

To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll

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