'Dogs sharpen mental edge to face Sailors

For sophomore goaltender Kelly Howl and her teammates, waiting for today's match-up against Steamboat Spring has caused nothing but butterflies in their stomachs.

Steamboat Springs is the top team in the Western Slope Conference (WSC), has only one loss to a Class 5A team sits at the number eight position in Class 4A rankings, and is the only team this side of the continental divide that has the best chance at taking the state title.

The 'Dogs face the Sailors at 3:30 p.m. today in Craig. The junior varsity team plays at 5:30 p.m.

"It's been a really stressful week for us, it always is going into a game like this," Howl said. "The only thing you can do is try and keep the game off your mind and on what you're doing at that present moment."

Howl has tried to use extended periods of stretching, and engulfing herself in her drills to cut the amount of pressure brought by a team which has scored 14 goals in five games. The goals have not been produced by one outstanding scorer, but from 10 different girls.

The stress put on the goalie by the Lady Sailors will not have to be endured by Howl alone, senior defensemen Jen Havrilla and Stacy Ponikvar will provide support to the goalkeeper.

Coach Eric Johnson is looking for an edge for his girls, and feels he may have found it in the new game plan he has implemented a plan which stresses a midfield game to take the pressure off the team's goal.

"We've been working this game plan for the past couple of weeks and the girls are starting to really catch on," Johnson said. "I just hope that the break in practice caused by spring vacation didn't hurt us too much."

Along with the midfield game, Johnson sees the number of possessions playing an important role when matching up with a team like Steamboat, since much of Lady Sailors' success has come from the ability to retain control of the ball. The coach looks for his team to win most of the 50/50 possessions in the game to give them the advantage in ball control.

The only physical stumbling block the team may have is whether their conditioning is good enough to hang in with a team like Steamboat. Spring break may have put the Lady Bulldogs behind their opponents who played a game less than a week ago.

"The conditioning will play a big factor in today's game," Johnson said. "Hopefully we'll be able to handle it. What worries me more though is whether the girls will get over the mental hump with the Lady Sailors, that's our biggest problem."

And the mental aspect is what's been causing butterflies for Howl and her teammates.

Johnson said that if Steamboat came out in Olathe jerseys, the Lady Bulldogs would do no less than tie the team that's how much of a mental edge the Sailors have.

"We've been working on just going into each game one at a time, and trying not to get caught up in worrying too much," Johnson said. "We know what we have to do to be successful, it's all just whether or not we can go out and execute."

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