Season opens with a bang as Sailors take on Skiers in opening day clash
Steamboat Springs — It’s the type of game many would expect to be played as a regular-season finale. But when the Steamboat Springs High School boys lacrosse team faces off against fellow Western Slope powerhouse Aspen at 11 a.m. Saturday, it will be the start of the season not the finish.
The Sailors, ranked 10th in the state last year, will face Aspen, who were ranked No. 11, in the first game of the 2017 season. Last year, the Sailors lost a hard-fought, 8-7 contest to Golden in overtime, and the Skiers fell to Air Academy, 10-9, in the first round of the state playoffs.
Though both team’s 2016 post-season runs ended too early, Steamboat coach Jay Lattimore can’t think of a better way to open the new season.
“Normally we focus on preparing week to week, but with Aspen as our opener, the players have been motivated in practice last week and this week,” Lattimore said.
He said the game might be even bigger if Steamboat and Aspen were playing in the same league. Steamboat plays in the Western Slope league along with Battle Mountain, Eagle Valley, Glenwood Springs, Summit and Vail Mountain, and Aspen is in the Mountain League along with Durango, Fruita Monument, Grand Junction, Montrose and Telluride.
“It may not be a conference game, but this is one of the biggest games on our schedule every year,” Lattimore said. “There is Aspen and Battle Mountain, and those are always our top games.”
Steamboat and Aspen are seen as programs to watch on the Western Slope, and both teams are in the playoff picture nearly every year.
Lattimore is confident the Sailors can get back to the playoffs in 2017, but he admits he’s going to need a new group of players to step in and fill some big holes. The squad lost 16 seniors from last year’s team including Drew Williamson, who scored 50 goals and 17 assists last season, and Jackson Draper, who had 26 goals and 24 assists.
The good news is that the Sailors have 10 returning players and plenty of young guns who will be given the opportunity to move up this season.
“There will be lots of opportunities for the younger players on the team this season,” Lattimore said. ”We’ve been telling them that the great players will make the most out of the small opportunities. Our goal, as coaches, is to reward the right people for their hard work, progression and motivation.
“It’s tough when you are coming off of a season like last year when we were loaded with seniors,” Lattimore explained. “The motivation was down a bit for the younger class of players, but now, we have a lot more opportunities available.”
He is beginning with a solid core including senior goalkeeper Peter Wharton, who finished last season with 115 saves, and junior David Petersen, who scored 42 goals and had four assists as a sophomore. The team will also have seniors Bryan Gilbertson, Colin Musselman, Wyatt Reynolds, Max Lynch and Grant Janka returning for the 2017 season.
“Every season is a little different,” Lattimore said. “Last year, we played 11 home games and were very comfortable at home. This year, we will need to get used to playing on the road and being comfortable with that.”
Four of the Sailors’ first six games will be played on the road. Steamboat will have a three-game home stand in April against Glenwood Springs, Eagle Valley and Summit, but that will be the only time the team plays back-to-back home games all season.
The Sailors will close out the regular season facing Vail Mountain twice in two days. The Sailors will be at home May 5 against the Gore Rangers and then wrap up the regular season the next day in Vail.
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