The 6 keys to creating the 1998 Steamboat state champion soccer team
The road to the Colorado State High School State Championships began years before the Steamboat Springs High School girls soccer team ever took the field against the Palisade Bulldogs on May 16, 1998.
Before that night in Englewood, the core of the team had spent years playing club soccer as part of the Jammers, one of Steamboat Springs’ first competitive traveling soccer teams.
“We were very much in the forefront of traveling,” former youth coach Ty Lockhart said. “They had a lot of experience when they got there, and it came from years of traveling and playing in tournaments.”
But that experience was just one of the keys to the Sailors success that season 20 years ago.
Time to travel
Lockhart said he started working with many of the players on the state championship team before they entered middle school. He said it was a group of athletes who were committed to the sport, and willing to do whatever it took to get better.
“You can’t look that far ahead,” Lockhart said when asked if he believed that group of players was destined to bring home a state title. “I picked them up with they were 12 or 13 and coached them all the way through middle school and high school. We just stuck together for the next seven years or so. They always showed up to practice, and we learned a lot together.”
He said it was often the agony of defeat that fueled the team’s desire to get better.
“I remember one year we went to the Pepsi Cup in Denver, and we didn’t score a goal,” Lockhart said. “The next three years we won the Pepsi Cup. We continued to spread our wings a little bit each year and went to different tournaments around the state.”
The team also traveled to Calgary and California during a time when club soccer was more locally focused.
“We had to go far and wide,” former Jammer Melissa (Johnson) Mickleson said. “We spent a lot of time together, and I think that is why we were so close and stayed so close 25-plus years later.”
This desire to get better carried over into the high school program. Coach Jim Dudley said he always picked non-conference games that he believed would make the team stronger, and the girls were able to find a silver lining when they got beat by bigger, and sometimes better, teams.
The perfect storm
Former high school standout Jennifer (Fritz) Patten describes the rise of the 1998 girls high school soccer team as the perfect storm. She said the talent, dedication and the players’ love of the game all came together that season and became the driving force in the team’s title run.
“It was a really special group of girls,” Patten said. “When we were on the field, we were all focused on one thing — soccer.”
One of those players, Liz Porter-Merrill, who moved to Steamboat Springs when she was 10, found common ground with many of the other players on the soccer field even when she struggled to find her place among classmates who had been together since kindergarten.
“I think it had probably a lot to do with the fact that we had been playing together for so long,” Porter-Merrill said. “I knew without looking where Melissa or where Jennifer were going to be on the field at any given time. We knew how each person played and as a result, you could always count on the right person being in the right place at the right time.”
A spot for everyone
With players like Patten, Mickleson and Chantal Meek, the 1998 Steamboat Springs High School girls soccer team had plenty of speed, but Julie Jarvis was not one of those players.
“They used to call me lightning,” Jarvis joked. “It wasn’t because I fast.”
But while some coaches might have seen her lack of speed as a problem, she said coach Dudley and assistant Jon Hawes saw potential.
“They were great at putting people in the right pace,” Jarvis said. “It meant a lot because they believed in me.”
That season Jarvis led the team with seven assists and found the back of the net once, but she is the first to point out that wasn’t her role on the team.
“I wasn’t fast, but I could create space and find people,” Jarvis said. “I was able to do that, and things just worked out.”
The combination fueled Steamboat’s high-powered offense, which collected 52 goals from 13 different players that season and tallied more than 30 assists from 11 players. Mickleson (12), Porter-Merrill (12) and Meek (10) all scored10 or more goals that season.
Leading the pack
There is no question that coaches Dudley and Hawes were key to bringing a state title to Steamboat in 1998, but neither of the former coaches wants to take credit for the run.
“So many American sports are coach centric. In football, this is the play you are going run and this is what we are going to do. In basketball, oh, time out, this is the play we are going to run,” Dudley said. “That is part of the reason I love soccer, and this is why I tell the kids I love soccer. When those guys go out on the field, it’s their game. Jon and I are going to help figure out a lineup and who is going out, but it’s still your game.”
But 20 years later, Dudley’s players have plenty of praise for their coaches.
“Coach Dudley and coach Jon, they are still such role models for me as coaches,” said Liz Masterson, who is now the head coach at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. “They were so positive with us. They were always positive, and I just can’t even remember a time when they were not positive with us over four years. They always built us up and made us feel good about being at practice and about playing soccer.”
Dudley was named the first girls soccer coach at Steamboat Springs High School when the program began in 1991. His laid-back personality, his ability to work with what he had and his big, warm smile was appreciated by the players.
“John and Jim were amazing,” said Jarvis, who was a co-captain that season. “They were so dedicated, they gave up so much of their time and they were so supportive of us. They made playing soccer fun, and everybody wanted to be there.”
It’s one of the most controversial parts of the game of soccer, but instead of grumbling about how unfair the penalty kick shootout is, members of the 1998 team embraced it.
The composure that Katie Luce, Patten, Meek, Mickleson, Caitlin Mangus and goalkeeper Clare Ellison showed in that game came after years of experience at tournaments, hours of practice with coaches and the confidence of knowing they could win in that situation.
“It was certainly was not my first shootout,” Ellison recalls. “I had confidence in our shooters, so I knew that in the end we were going to be fine. I had worked a lot with Jon (Hawes) on how to read the shooters, and how to deal with penalty kicks.”
The team had faced shootouts many times at the club level, and the Sailors had lost in a shootout in the playoffs the year before.
So Dudley made practicing shootouts a regular thing at practices that season, so the players knew what they needed to do when they took the field.
“I listened to that final game on the radio that night.” Lockhart said. “When it went into a shootout, I thought, ‘We are going to win this thing,’ because that team had been in lots and lots of penalty kicks and shootouts. One time in Grand Junction we went to the 12th player and then won.”
There were many reasons for the success of the 1998 girls high school soccer team but the title run was built on a foundation of respect among players, and a sense that they were playing for more than a trophy.
“I think it wasn’t just for girls soccer,” Meek said. “I think it was for girls athletics in general, and it showed that we should be taken seriously.”
She said at the time it was difficult for young women to find female role models in sports, and as she looks back to that year, her hope is that the girls on that team inspired some of the teams that followed and created a vision for what young women could accomplish.
“I hope they looked at us and thought, ‘Oh look these girls can go on, they can be really good coming out of this town, and they can go on and continue to play.’ We really had not had a lot of women, outside of skiing, go on to do something in college, and I think this set the tone.”
Masterson, who was a freshman that year, said her teammates left an impression that still inspires her today.
“The most important thing for me was those role models,” she said. “Our commitment level just went up and up. When those seniors graduated, we knew that we needed to step up and take on that leadership role and keep this going.“
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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