Many of the Moffat County High School girls basketball players have been waiting for this game since getting clobbered by Steamboat in volleyball.
The Steamboat Sailor seniors have been waiting for this opportunity since the seventh grade.
"Ever since they killed us in volleyball, I've been anxious for this game," said senior Amanda Tomlinson. "They haven't beat us in a varsity game since the seventh grade. Basketball has always been our sport."
"The last couple of years we haven't had the confidence to beat (Moffat County)," said senior Tracy Lucas. "We've been pumped because of the fact it's Craig but underneath I don't think we thought we could beat them. I think we're more confident this year."
The confidence Steamboat has gained comes from a 10-0 record this season. The Sailors know that to prove their record isn't a fluke, Friday night is a big step.
"I don't think we are there until we prove ourselves against Moffat County, no matter what our record is," Lucas said.
Her coach, Steve Moos agreed.
"The road to the league title still goes through Craig until someone knocks them off," Moos said.
The respect is mutual.
"Moos has done a fantastic job getting his team motivated and energized," Moffat County coach Craig Mortensen said of the Sailors' first-year coach. "The improvement he has brought to them is exactly what this league needs."
Last year, the Bulldogs went virtually untouched through its league schedule with the closest game being a 10-point victory over Rifle. But with the graduation of four starters from last year's state quarterfinal team, they're still trying to find themselves.
"We're still working to come out mentally prepared for every game and in every play," Mortensen said. "The Steamboat game will be our first league test to see if we
can do that."
The Sailors and Bulldogs have played the same league opponents in Delta, Battle Mountain and Palisade and none of the games were close for either team. While the Bulldogs are used to the success, it is relatively new to Steamboat.
"You can tell they're pretty confident by the comments in the paper after the Delta game," MCHS sophomore Brandie Telfer said. "It's going to their heads when they start talking about if they should leave their varsity in or keep pressing or whatever. You just don't say that stuff in the paper."
Confidence and records aside, every Yampa Valley showdown brings the same adage. A coach or a player will always emphasize, "No matter the record or the ranking or the venue, it's a big rivalry that can go either way."
Mortensen was the one to say it this time but he also had a formula to overcome the "on-any-night-any-team-can-win" theory.
"If we allow them to shoot lay-ups from their transition game, they'll beat us," he said. "They're getting a lot of open shots this year and we have to take care of that on defense."
The Sailors are familiar with their foe as well.
"We don't need a scouting report," Lucas said. "It's all the same girls we've played since we were younger. All of us are on a first-name basis."
The Sailors are particularly aware of Moffat County senior Laurel Mortensen, who was the Western Slope Conference Player of the Year last year and is coming off of a 25-point performance against Delta.
"The team revolves around her," Lucas said. "She's an all-around player."
The Bulldogs know who they need to stop as well.
"(Senior Jen) Weber is a good shooter," Tomlinson said.
"They've also been playing well inside this year," Telfer said.
The coaches are more cautious than to single out players.
"They are not just one player," Moos said. "They have great players all around."
"They look like they have a good balance," coach Mortensen said. "We've had some trouble defending the post so that will be a big challenge."
The big challenge for spectators Friday night will be to find a seat with 1,700 fans expected to show up at the MCHS gymnasium.
Steamboat junior Shelley Dunlop may have said it best, "It's a new season starting right now."
The "new season" starts around 6 p.m. for the girls and 7:30 for the boys.
David Pressgrove can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.