Steamboat Sailors boys basketball reaches Sweet 16 for 1st time in over a decade |

Steamboat Sailors boys basketball reaches Sweet 16 for 1st time in over a decade

Steamboat Springs High School senior Mac Riniker goes in for a shot on Saturday, Feb. 23, versus Cañon City at Steamboat Springs High School. The Sailors won 61-30 and will host a Sweet 16 playoff game on Wednesday, Feb. 27, at home. (Photo by Derek Maiolo)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The last time the Steamboat Springs High School boys basketball team advanced to the Sweet 16, it was led by legendary head coach Kelly Meek, and Michael Vandahl was the star player.

Meek retired at the end of that season in 2008, and Vandahl was named the Western Slope Conference Player of the Year before heading off to college, ending the Sailors run of six Sweet 16 appearances in eight seasons.

Now, Vandahl leads the team as head coach, and Meek volunteers with the program.

If you go

What: Steamboat Springs vs. Pueblo East state playoff game
When: 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 27
Where: Steamboat Springs High School
Cost: $9 general admission, $7 K-12 students and seniors

When the Sailors, 21-3, take the court at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 27, at home to face the Pueblo East Eagles, 15-9, it will be the first time the Steamboat boys have been at the Sweet 16 in more than a decade.

“It’s the first time in a long time that we have been in the Sweet 16, Vandahl said. “… We are staying present, just worrying about one game at a time, and the home court is really nice. We are hoping to take advantage of it.”

After a first-round bye in the state playoffs, Steamboat hosted Cañon City on Saturday and rolled to a 61-30 victory despite a sluggish second quarter, when the home team could manage only two points. Steamboat had jumped out to a 14-1 lead but struggled in the second before Dawson Lindquist helped spark the Sailors. The junior ended the night with 21 points and helped Steamboat on a night when one of the Sailors’ top scorers, Mac Riniker, was hindered by foul trouble.

“I know that these players are talented, and they know that they are talented,” Vandahl said. “But, it was nice to see them step up when one of our leaders was down. It shows the strength of our team. It doesn’t matter who it is, but we almost always have one person step up every night, and that night it was Dawson.”

This week, the students at Steamboat Springs High School will be back in class after last week’s Blues Break, and the Sailors will be back on the court looking to be one of the final eight teams still playing in the state for the first time since 2001.

“I wouldn’t miss it. I think the team has a pretty good shot this year,” said Meek, who has been in Denver helping coach his grandsons’ basketball teams. “Karen and I will drive back for the game, and then come back to Denver on Thursday.”

When the Sailors take the court Wednesday, it will be the first time Steamboat has hosted during the Sweet 16 round of the tournament. In the past, Meek explained, this round was played at four neutral sites across the state.

The Steamboat Springs High School boys basketball team is headed back to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2008. That year, the team was coached by Kelly Meek, and its star player was a young Michael Vandahl. Now retired, Meek is still helping with the Steamboat program, and Vandahl is coaching the team. (Photo by Jill Rowan)

Both Meek and Vandahl think that having the game in Steamboat will be an advantage for the home team not only because the school expects a large, enthusiastic crowd, but also because the visiting Pueblo team will have to travel more than five hours to get to the game. Vandahl said that’s something his team has had to deal with during the playoffs the past four years.

The Eagles have not played a team outside of Pueblo since Jan. 8, when they traveled to Alamosa, a little less than 2 hours away.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.

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