When she was a freshman, Jeni Bamford made a deal with four of her friends. If they came out for soccer, she would go out for the swim team. Now as a senior, Bamford smiles when she thinks about which team benefited more.
"The soccer team got the better deal," she said. "I was just one person on the swim team, we got four more soccer players."
Bamford brought Jada Hastings, Chloe Gilchrist, Cassie Owens and Nicole Vorhies to the team and, along with Jennifer Wiersma and Kelly Howle, the seven are the seniors on this year's Moffat County High School girls soccer team. The last three years, the team has taken its lumps with only one varsity win. But after the first game this season, the Bulldogs are confident that there will be a turnaround.
"We know we're going to do a lot better this year," said Bamford, an honorable mention Western Slope Conference player last year. "While we'll still be the underdog, we're going to surprise a lot of people."
The first team to be surprised was Palisade in the season opener last weekend. Moffat County went into overtime tied, 1-1, with Palisade and, although they eventually lost, 2-1, they competed with a team that out-scored them 12-0 last year.
"I'm really encouraged and excited for the year," said Carla Bamford, who was the team's assistant coach last year and takes over as head coach this season. "There's not really just one strength that we have, it's all there."
There are 31 girls out for the team with nearly half of them --14 -- freshmen. But the title of freshman for some of the players is misleading.
"The freshmen really compliment us well," Wiersma said.
"Some of them have been playing just as long as we have," Jeni Bamford said. "They have experience and talent."
One advantage the team believes it has this year is the time it put in during the fall. For the first time for any of the current MCHS players, they had a fall season.
"We became a team in September instead of a week ago like most," Owens said.
"The fall really helped us come together," Vorhies added.
For Carla Bamford, the fall helped her to see what her first high school team would be like.
"We have good players at each age group so it was nice to have the fall to see what would work," she said. "Everybody got some playing time and we gained confidence, too."
The team also has found confidence in Howle, the Bulldogs' goalie. A starter since her sophomore year and a first-team selection in the conference last year, Howle has absorbed a lot of shots in the last three years. In a game last year against Battle Mountain, she took on 61 shots from the Huskies.
"Kelly is the base of our team," Vorhies said. "She makes everyone want to be better."
While the Bulldogs had a confidence booster in their first game, they aren't getting ahead of themselves.
"We obviously want to win some games," coach Bamford said. "But I still think the focus is to be able to finish the season with our heads high."
What is exciting to the seniors is the prospect of surprising everybody they play.
"Palisade was surprised by how good we were," Gilchrist said. "I think everybody else will be surprised, too, and there is a lot less pressure on us as the underdog."
The Bulldogs travel to Olathe today for what was scheduled as their first home game of the year. Weather permitting, they will play their first home game at 11 a.m. for the JV and 1 p.m. for varsity Saturday against rivals Steamboat Springs.