Welcome back, Battle Mountain-Vail Mountain soccer
Yes, I am far more gorked — is that a word? — than I should be for Saturday’s Battle Mountain-Vail Mountain soccer game at 1 p.m. in East Vail.
It’s an opener, which doesn’t mean much.
It’s a nonconference game, which doesn’t mean much.
The two teams are in different classifications, for crying out loud.
But I’m a nostalgic guy. When the dinosaurs still roamed the earth and I started here at the Vail Daily, Battle Mountain-VMS was THE game.
In the late 90s, everyone in the Slope was 3A and these two schools played each other every year, sort of.
I say sort of because in 1997, VMS was the big dog and had the Huskies for lunch twice. The Gore Rangers and Steamboat Springs were the class of the east/north side of the Slope — and Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley were afterthoughts.
Yes, boys and girls, there was a time Huskies soccer was mediocre. I remember the postgame handshake between then VMS-coach Bob Bandoni and Huskies coach David Cope, in which the later was wishing the former good luck in his next game with the Sailors because there was still a slim — truthfully non-existent — possibility — that the Huskies could make the playoffs with assorted machinations.
(Yes, this is the start of Cope being the guru of every possible soccer-playoff scenario known to humanity.) In 1998, the Huskies were the better team, but VMS pulled the upset, 1-0. That was a formative moment for both programs, as Battle Mountain still went on to its first playoff berth under Cope — the streak is now at 18 years. Meanwhile, VMS, thanks to a CHSAA quirk, made the playoffs with just one win, yep, the one over the Huskies. At said playoff game, Bandoni introduced orange jerseys and that seems to have taken off.
The 1999 game remains the classic. It was the final game of the season at VMS and a play-in game for the playoffs. Going into overtime, the Huskies held the advantage as a draw sent them through.
VMS pulled its goalie in extra time and the Huskies’ Alberto Saenz scored an empty-netter.
Battle Mountain won the next two, 3-2 (2000) and 5-0 (2001) and, with the program’s move to 4A in most sports, the VMS game really could only hurt the Huskies with regard to the postseason, so the series was discontinued.
With the implementation of ratings-percentage index, or strength of schedule, based primarily on your opponents’ win-loss record — Battle Mountain was 13-2 while VMS was 13-1-1 during their regular seasons — the two schools play each other for the first time in 15 years.
Like looking in a mirror
The two teams are virtually carbon copies of each other in playing style as Cope, Bandoni and current VMS coach Pete Petrovski incorporate the backs into the offense, work the flanks and cut to the end line. (By the way, Petrovski played for Cope at Battle Mountain when the latter was an assistant coach.)
Battle Mountain gets the edge on pedigree and physical size. (I’ve played this game in my brain for far too many years.) Skill is equal. Both teams feature superb center backs, Bridger Gile and Robby Gruber for VMS and Miles Joersz for Battle Mountain, depending on how each team unveils its formation. (Both programs subscribe to the cult of the center back, so this is now surprise.)
VMS returns more offensive depth, so edge to the Gore Rangers with those gnats Peter Ferraro and Liam Hurley. (The phrase, gnats, is meant in the nicest way. This duo is really annoying to opposing teams and that’s a good thing.)
Both teams will have to address goalkeeping. VMS’ Colin Rouad started last season as the third-stringer and started well, but needs to prove himself over a full season. Battle Mountain is replacing Jack Skidmore and Cope has two candidates in Alan Villegas and Miguel Alvarez.
The matchup I would watch is Battle Mountain’s Creek Kamby vs. some combination of Gile and/or Gruber. Kamby, as will be a theme all season, is a big target in the offensive third. He could cause problems for VMS and pretty much everyone else on the schedule. Can Gile or Gruber deny him the ball? That battle in itself should be good theater.
Composure is an issue for both teams, merely because it’s the opener for highly anticipated seasons. Battle Mountain is Battle Mountain and I heard something about VMS returning a large portion of a team that lost to Kent Denver in the state semifinals.
Yes, it’s the first game of the season, but it’s a good thing to see Battle Mountain and VMS on the same pitch again.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, firstname.lastname@example.org and @cfreud.