Time to check the dance card
EAGLE-VAIL – Before Battle Mountain’s soccer scrimmage with Vail Mountain Friday, Huskies coach David Cope, his players Kyle Moore and Tyler Cole, VMS coach Bob Bandoni and his captain, Max Avery, huddled.All good friends, Moore extended his hand to Avery and jokingly asked, “Can I have the first dance?” Later on a VMS corner kick, the two were having a mock wrestling match in the box.In short, this is what Battle Mountain-VMS soccer is about – good friendships, usually good competition and a fun rivalry, one which should be renewed in more than a scrimmage.The schools suspended the regular season series after 2002. The reason was simple. It hurts Battle Mountain, a 4A program, to play 3A VMS. Battle Mountain gets more points for postseason seeding by playing and beating 4A and 5A schools, as the Huskies did by pummeling 5A Grand Junction Central last year.
When a 4A program loses to a 3A team, it hurts big time when it comes to playoff seeding. I am thoroughly convinced that Battle Mountain soccer was dropped to the infamous 16th seed last year by losing to 3A Alexander Dawson, even though those Mustangs were ranked fourth in the state.Bottom line is that Battle Mountain has nothing to win and everything to lose by playing VMS. If the Huskies top the Gore Rangers, It’s like, “So what? You beat a 3A team.” If VMS wins, the Huskies postseason stock falls like a dot.com.But all of this flies in the face of what’s good about high school sports. You should play your local rival. With no disrespect to Eagle Valley, the Devils are not Battle Mountain’s rival in soccer. Steamboat is and VMS was also a big game when the two schools played.By coincidence, Bandoni and Cope could start the rivalry again this year. Grand Junction Central canceled its game with Battle Mountain, set for Sept. 1. That leaves the Huskies with 14 regular season games, one below the maximum. In a related development, VMS has only 14 varsity games on its slate.To paraphrase Moore, “Shall we dance?”
The historyScores are not kept in scrimmages by rule, but you didn’t have to be a Zen master of The Beautiful Game to see that Battle Mountain, tactfully put, controlled the tempo of play Friday. If the two teams were to meet in the regular season, the Huskies would be heavy favorites.But remember, everything goes in cycles and this has been a great rivalry. When I got here in 1997, VMS, not Battle Mountain, was the 800-pound gorilla when it came to Eagle County soccer. Brandon Levy, Brian Bevan, Ian Russi, Chad McConathy, Matt Slevin and company went 9-1 in the Northern Division of the 3A Slope.The Gore Rangers pounded Battle Mountain, then in 3A, twice that year, beat Steamboat on the road and knocked off Glenwood to make the state playoffs. Meanwhile, Battle Mountain soccer was just emerging from mediocrity, posting a .500 mark. The Huskies eked out one-goal wins over hapless Moffat and a 5-1 loss at Steamboat was considered a moral victory.
The next year, all was meant to change. In 1998, VMS was creamed by graduation the previous spring and Battle Mountain was favored to win the 3A Slope. Not so fast.The Gore Rangers on the strength of a Will McConathy goal upset Battle Mountain, 1-0, for their only win of the regular season. That’s why they play the games, kids.The 1999 meeting was one for the ages. On the final day of the season, the two teams met with a state berth on the line. Battle Mountain would go with a win or a tie, but VMS needed the outright win. And so with the game tied 1-1 in overtime, Bandoni pulled goalie Aaron Vandeford out of the net to play in the field. Alberto Saenz scored on an empty-netter, giving the Huskies their first win over VMS since 1995, a playoff berth and a celebration never to be forgotten.In 2000, Battle Mountain moved to 4A, but it was still a contest. VMS took a 2-0 lead in the first half before Jose Lozano scored twice and Chris Finch put in the game-winner.
Though the Huskies may have won bragging rights, VMS became the team of the county, upsetting No. 1 Colorado Academy in the state quarterfinals to become the smallest school ever to make the state semifinals.The snow fell before the 2001 edition in early September, pushing back the game two hours. The Huskies squeaked by VMS again, 2-1, this time courtesy of Scott Ligouri. The last time the two sides met was in September 2002 and it was all Battle Mountain to the tune of 5-0.The Huskies later tied Steamboat, setting in motion their ascendance to 4A Slope supremacy. Meanwhile, Andrew Feldman, held scoreless against Battle Mountain, led the Gore Rangers to the postseason behind 21 goals.It’s been nearly three years now since that game, far too long.
It’s time to dance again.Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 614 or via firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado
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