Steamboat players, coach honored after incredible season
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The 2021 Steamboat Springs High School basketball had a way about them that eliminated doubt and caused anyone in their presence to believe in them. And why not? Going into the postseason 14-0 and being the No. 6 seed in 4A, Steamboat was good at everything. There was no reason to think they would accomplish anything less than a championship.
The Sailors found their kryptonite in Montrose on Monday night, though, ending their season in the Great Eight. That doesn’t make the last month and a half any less impressive or magical for the team and its seven seniors.
The team’s hard work was recognized as head coach Michael Vandahl was named Western Slope League Coach of the Year. Steamboat senior Eric Pollert was named Player of the Year, while senior Jake Kreissig and sophomore Cade Gedeon were named to the All-Conference First Team. Senior Granger Rowan and junior Kellen Adams were honorable mentions.
Vandahl said the undefeated regular season, the league championship and the conference recognition isn’t as meaningful as the attitudes and character displayed by his players.
“Coach Luke DeWolfe just got an email from one of the referees last night about how respectful our players were and the sportsmanship they showed and how respectful our parents were after the game even with a losing effort,” Vandahl said. “That’s more important than anything, than getting to the Final Four or winning any games. Getting that email, I think, shows more than anything the character that these boys have.”
The 2021 team is just the latest in a long line of successful Sailor teams. Two years ago, the squad played in the Sweet Sixteen, and last year, Steamboat hosted a first-round playoff game but lost.
This year, the team got to the top eight in the state. The last Steamboat team to do so was in 2001.
“I’m really proud of it, of all my teammates and everything they’ve accomplished,” said senior Austin Ibarra. “Our team this year, we’ve played together since elementary school. To be able to see the success that we’ve had since then and this season, I’m really proud of that.”
Ibarra and senior Thomas Lewer spent most of the season on the bench. Ibarra was the eighth or ninth man off the bench, getting some key minutes while starters rested. Lewer was held back by injury but still saw minutes late in games towards the end of the season.
“I brought a lot of energy, and every time I got out there, I gave everything I had, even though I didn’t get a lot of time,” Ibarra said. “I made sure I gave everything I could for my teammates.”
Pollert was the biggest and best Sailor on the court all season. He averaged a team-high 14.8 points per game and led the team with 8.5 rebounds per game.
His domination is all the more impressive knowing where he was just a few years ago. Vandahl first saw the 6-foot-8 forward play at a High Altitude Basketball camp when Pollert was in eighth grade.
“I saw his athleticism, but his basketball skills weren’t really there,” Vandahl said. “He’s just a great example for all kids that none of it came naturally to him. I haven’t seen a kid work as hard as him in a long time, constantly trying to get to the gym. He would go to outdoor courts and work his butt off. All the success he’s having now is due to his hard work.”
Pollert’s work under the basket paired well with the 3-point shooting ability of so many others. Together, the team swept through the Western Slope and had the most successful Steamboat season in 20 years.
“There was so much absurdity,” Vandahl said. “We got quarantined in the very beginning. It looked dismal at first. We had one practice before our first game. They embraced everything, controlled what they could control, and I was proud of everything they did this season.”
Shelby Reardon is the assistant editor at the Steamboat Pilot & Today. To reach her, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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