Why I love this rivalry
On Sept. 18, 2007, I celebrated my first year of sobriety as a recovering alcoholic. The day started with my mom going on and on about how proud she was on the phone.
As big of an accomplishment as sobriety was/and is, I wanted to tell her, “Thanks, Mom, but it’s Steamboat day. The Sailors are coming. It’s Battle Mountain-Steamboat soccer. Gotta go.”
Battle Mountain-Eagle Valley is the rivalry here in Eagle County — except in soccer.
In the fall and the spring, the two Eagle Valley futbol matches each spring and fall are important and well-attended, but it’s all about Steamboat Springs.
Those games are marked on the calendar the instant the schedule comes out.
That’s because, by and large, the road to the 4A Slope title usually goes through the Huskies or the Sailors. Since 2000, both schools have combined for 10 of the 13 Slope crowns (Glenwood Springs, 2002, Rifle, 2003, and Eagle Valley, 2008).
Yes, it’s two coaches, Rob Bohlmann and David Cope, who have headed up their programs for the past 20 years. (A few years more in the case of the former.) Yes, they play similar systems. But it’s about the winning, and, if that’s not possible, preventing the other team from winning the title. Battle Mountain-Steamboat or Sailors-Huskies, depending on one’s partisanship, always seems to have some postseason implication.
Let there be light
Steamboat had a rival from Eagle County in the 1990s. Its name, however, was the Vail Mountain School. Back when telephones were actually telephones, in 1997, when I started at the Vail Daily, the 3A Slope was ruled by Steamboat and VMS in its Eastern Division and Aspen and Glenwood Springs in the West. (The Sailors moved to 4A in 1998 and the Huskies followed in 2000, as the current league took shape.)
Battle Mountain was an afterthought. Steamboat-Battle Mountain get-togethers were a rivalry in only an aspirational sense for the latter because the Sailors were everything Huskies wanted to be, but simply weren’t. (As Luke Graham and I compiled the scores of this series, they surprise me. I could have sworn that the Sailors won by more during this time. It felt that way.)
When the Huskies joined the 4A Slope in 2000, Cope decided that the Huskies would host Steamboat under the lights at old Huskies Stadium. On the record, according to Cope, the kids wanted a home night game and he was obliging them. Cope is a nice guy, but he was also hoping to box in the more-athletic Sailors on a tighter pitch.
The Sailors won the first of the three annual night games, 3-0, in 2000, and Cope joked, “Next year, we’ll play them on a tennis court.”
Though Steamboat was still posting the results, Cope was building a program, and it finally came through in the 2002 night game in Eagle-Vail, hereafter known as “The Sean Reynolds Game.” The aforementioned senior scored late, giving the Huskies a 2-2 draw, which was essentially a Battle Mountain win.
That draw gave Glenwood, instead of Steamboat, the Slope crown. More importantly, Cope wanted the Vail Daily to run the headline, “Battle Mountain beats Steamboat, 2-2.”
The tide turns
That was the last time the Huskies and Sailors met under the lights until Battle Mountain moved to Edwards and its 80-yard wide pitch in 2009. In 2003, the Huskies and Sailors became equals, as Battle Mountain won the second meeting of the year between the two teams, 2-0.
I think this remains the biggest win in Cope’s career. Yes, there was beating Glenwood for the first time in 1999 — in his first year, the Huskies lost to the Demons, 9-0 — and “The VMS Game,” also in 1999, with the winner going to the playoffs. (The Huskies did, courtesy of an overtime tally by Alberto Saenz.) Both are Cope favorites. Of course, there were some monstrous wins in 2012, most notably the state-title game against Palmer Ridge and the quarterfinal at Evergreen.
Yet even before the mountain that was Evergreen had to be climbed in 2012, Battle Mountain had to beat Steamboat. None of the league titles that followed (2004-07 and 2010-2012) could have happened without finally knocking off Steamboat back in 2003.
A new coach and surprises
Battle Mountain girls soccer got a new coach for the 2004 season — Cope. Since he had coached the brothers, why not the sisters? (We could do a whole other story on the assorted siblings on both sides involved in this series.)
Just like Battle Mountain’s boys had to do in the fall, the girls had to climb the Steamboat mountain. In 2006, the Huskies drew with the Sailors, 1-1, and it was like Sean Reynolds all over again.
“Battle Mountain wins, 1-1,” Cope said at the time.
After 15 tries dating back to 1997 — Steamboat was 12-0-2 during that time — the Huskies finally nabbed the Sailors, 3-1, on March 22, 2007.
Battle Mountain won consecutive league crowns in 2007 and 2008 with a cumulative regular-season of 29-0-1. (Naturally, the one was against the Sailors.)
Throughout the years, there have been classics on both the boys’ and girls’ sides.
In fall 2006, the Huskies had won two straight league titles and opened the league season at home against Steamboat. The Sailors scored in stoppage time for a 3-2 stunner. That left the Huskies 0-1-1 overall to start the season, and Camp Battle Mountain was doubting the chances of a three-peat.
April 15, 2008, is probably one of my favorite moments of the rivalry. The Huskies were the juggernaut in the middle of that 29-0-1 run but could not get one past the Sailors until Lizzie Seibert struck in the 78th. Good goal, but a great moment because of the shot that our photographer Preston Utley took of Seibert, arms stretched like an airplane in celebration, afterward.
Perhaps the 2009 boys season involved the most mayhem. The rivals tied in both their meetings. In fact, Steamboat and Battle Mountain were so intertwined, they both finished with 8-0-4 league records. On the final day of the season, the Huskies and Eagle Valley played to a 0-0 draw — by October, Luke and I are always firing texts back and forth from games, and this was no exception — and that gave Steamboat the league title, even though both teams hadn’t lost a league game.
As a reporter, Battle Mountain boys soccer took me on the ride of a lifetime by going 20-0 and winning the whole shooting match. About the only thing that was a downer was that, at least for one year, the Steamboat-Battle Mountain rivalry had a dip.
The Huskies took care of business last fall by an aggregate score of 9-0. When the Huskies won the second game down here between the two teams — 4-0 — there was no celebration. I understood that Battle Mountain was shooting higher, but it was unnatural at the time.
Mercifully, the spring rolled around, and, well, the girls teams straightened things out. Battle Mountain 2, Steamboat 2. Battle Mountain 1, Steamboat 1. And, boy, did both teams look like they both lost after the second draw. That’s much more like it.
When Cope’s and Bohlmann’s teams meet this fall, the Huskies will be a different team from 2012, not as good as last year — that’s about impossible — but not as depleted as some might think. Meanwhile, the Sailors will be looking for some payback.
Game on. Mark your calendars.
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.