22 players, 100 minutes, 2 overtimes, 1 treasured Colorado state soccer title for Steamboat’s girls
The road to the title
Nobody was looking to Steamboat Springs as a state soccer title contender following the Sailors’ first four games of the 1998 season.
The team was 0-3-1, but then a scheduling error resulted in a one-day, road trip to play a game that only lasted 80 minutes, and something changed.
“We ended up driving down to Montrose, and driving back in one day,” goalkeeper Clare Ellison said. “For whatever reason that game just stuck out in my mind. I thought that If don’t turn it around here we are done. I don’t know what it was about that game, or if it was because we bonded after spending 16 hours on a bus to play that game, but if we had not won that game I feel that our season would have gone very differently. “
The Sailors not only won that game, but went on to post a 14-3-2 season record, scoring 53 goals while giving up 18 and earned a No. 9 state ranking. The semifinal win was the first time the Sailors had beaten Colorado Academy, a team the Sailors had faced, and lost to in the state playoff game in past seasons.
Sailors 1998 schedule:
March 13, Greeley West (L) 2-0
March 14, Liberty (L) 1-0
March 14, Centaurus (L) 3-1
March 21, Aspen (T) 2-2
March 24, Montrose (W) 2-0
March 28, Thompson Valley (W) 3-1
March 28, Berthoud (W) 4-2
April 2, Moffat County (W) 6-0
April 4, Rifle (w) 3-0
April 9, Vail Mountain (W) 4-1
April 11, Glenwood Springs (W) 2-0
April 16, Eagle Valley (W) 5-0
April 22, Colorado Rocky Mountain School (W) 4-0
April 23, Battle Mountain (T) 1-1
April 25, Aspen (W) 2-1
May 2, Alamosa (W) 3-0
May 9, Denver Lutheran (W) 6-1
May 14, Colorado Academy (w) 2-1
May 16, Palisade (W) 2-2 (4-3)Steamboat Sailors’ state titles at a glance
On May 16. 1998, the Steamboat Springs High School girls soccer team defeated Palisade at Pirate Stadium at Englewood High School to win the 3A Colorado State High School Championships.
The title was the 21st won by a team at the Steamboat Springs High School, and the Sailors’ most recent. Steamboat’s wrestling teams have won six titles, the boys track team won six and the girls gymnastics team collected three. The only other team to earn multiple titles was the girls cross country team that earned two state titles in the 1990s.
State titles were also won by the 1971 boys basketball team, the 1979 boys football team and the 1991 girls track team.
The sun was fading, and the temperature was dropping as a plot unfolded on the soccer field at Pirate Stadium in Englewood. A story that seemed like it was ripped from the final scene of a Hollywood movie.
“I just look back on that night, and if I could give my kids anything, I would want them to have that feeling in whatever it is that they do,” said former Steamboat soccer player Chantal Meek, who scored a goal late in the second half of the 1998 3A State High School Girls State Championships game that tied the score at 2-2. The Sailors went on to win 4-3 in an overtime shootout.
“That moment when we won we were just all one unit,” she continued. “The cohesiveness was incredible … I wish that feeling for my kids because you don’t ever not feel that.”
That year the Sailors’ quest for a 3A state title came down to the final game of the season, which turned out to be an epic battle between the Sailors and another Western Slope contender, the Palisade Bulldogs.
“For those kids, it was a great moment, for me it was a great moment,” former coach Jim Dudley said. “It was funny because I had been coaching for like eight years, and Kelly Meek said to me, ‘Really enjoy it, that game is so hard to get to.’ Now as I look back, I realize how flipping hard it is to get to that point, and I was really fortunate to have been in the right place, at the right time.”
Steamboat and Palisade played to a 2-2 tie after 80 minutes, played another 20 minutes of overtime soccer and then went to a penalty shootout to determine the 1998 champion.
Dudley recalls laying on his back in the grass in those tense final minutes peeking up occasionally to see how things were progressing. His dad was in the stands watching, and Dudley remembers feeling his mother’s presence.
“I looked up at the stars and then I would look up and watch the kids” Dudley said. “My mom had died about a year and a half prior, so I just told her that ‘this is incredible, this is amazing.’”
On that night, Steamboat had jumped out to an early 1-0 lead. Katie (Luce) Anderson, a defender, scored on a penalty kick after Palisade was called for tripping in the box. But for the most part, it was the Bulldogs that dominated as they outshot the Sailors 17-5. Palisade’s Erin Benitez scored on a strike from 16 yards out in the 30th minute to tie the game, and her teammate Mandy Nilsen scored from 14 yards out just a few minutes later to give the Bulldogs a 2-1 lead.
The Sailors would trail for most of the second half, but in the 64th minute Meek drove the ball into the box, beating three Palisade defenders, before firing the ball just inside the far goalpost to tie the game at 2-2.
In overtime, Clare Ellison stopped Palisade’s Katherine Esposito on a one-on-one opportunity, and Nilsen drilled a 35-yard shot off the crossbar. But just like any great Hollywood script, this game would be decided in dramatic fashion in a shootout.
Steamboat took the early lead when Anderson scored, and the Bulldogs missed. Steamboat’s Meek and Jennifer (Fritz) Patten matched the next two Palisade shooters to give the Sailors a 3-2 advantage with the Sailors’ top scorer, senior Melissa (Johnson) Mickleson, stepping to the line.
“I remember that it was a hard-fought game, and we had to go to penalty kicks, and that I missed a damn penalty kick,” Mickleson said. “I missed, and I never missed.”
But Ellison came to the rescue with a diving save that stopped Bulldog Jamie McDonald’s shot to maintain Steamboat’s one-goal advantage.
In the final round, Palisade’s shooter scored, but Caitlin Mangus found the back of the net giving the Sailors’ four goals, to the Bulldogs’ three.
“We had such a long journey together,” Liz Porter-Merrill said, as she fought back tears. “I remember thinking, I wonder if anything will ever add up to this … wondering wether or not you will every accomplish anything quite as special.”
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