Moffat County junior Jessica Uecker and sophomore Ashleigh Mann missed the first week of soccer practice because of the state playoffs in basketball. When they arrived for their first day of practice, last year's top scorers were surprised.
Not only were there twice the number of girls compared to last year, but Moffat County Athletic Director Jim Loughran was their coach.
"Both of those things were equally surprising," Uecker said. "A lot of girls came out we didn't expect."
"And no one expected Loughran to be our coach," Mann said.
Coach Lori Smith resigned in the fall because she was moving. Smith's unexpected resignation left Loughran with five months to fill the coaching position.
Some local interest was shown for the job, but Loughran decided he was going to hire internally for the position -- one can't get much more internal.
"I wanted to provide some stability to the program," he said. "I thought if I surrounded myself with the right people, that could be done."
Loughran is the first to admit that he's just learning the sport, but he took that into account when forming a staff.
He brought in Moffat County boys soccer players senior Hugo Quezada and junior Schuyler Hammond and assigned them the titles of trainers. They are training Loughran and the team in soccer-specific strategy.
"It has worked out well so far," Uecker said. "Loughran knows how to coach, and he's learning the soccer stuff from the other guys."
The season is just one game in, but the girls like what they've seen so far.
"We have a better attitude toward everything this year," Mann said.
It's a good start for a program that has struggled to find success in the win column. Last year, the Bulldogs set a school record with three wins.
So far, so good, right?
"I told them that the honeymoon is about over," Loughran said. "We have to work hard to improve."
This team has two things to its advantage that it didn't last year -- depth and experience.
The Bulldogs return seven starters (the previous year eight senior starters graduated), and juniors Michelle Workman and Maggie Blackstun are back on the team after spending their sophomore years on the track team. Both Workman and Blackstun contributed on varsity as freshmen.
"We have a lot of athleticism on this team," Loughran said. "We're still really young with only three seniors, but there's a lot of potential."
At times last year, the Bulldogs had only one substitute. This year, a turnout of 28 players has Loughran trying to schedule as many JV games as he can.
Depth and experience are accompanied by most of the talent from last year's team. Uecker was a first-team selection for the WSL last year. Her presence at either midfield or defense kept Steamboat at bay in the season's first game.
Mann was the team's leading scorer last year with seven goals. She was an honorable mention selection for the WSL.
Sophomore goalie Heather Brown literally learned under fire last year. Her progress as a rookie goalie helped the Bulldogs stay tough defensively for most of the season.
"We definitely want to break some records this year," Mann said.
"A lot of records," Uecker said. "And we want to get to the postseason."
Loughran, who coached basketball and football before he was athletic director, is picking up ways to help his team reach its goals.
"Soccer is a different game than what I'm used to," he said. "But I'm seeing that what's important is that the girls know how to create. That's more up to the players than the coach. My job is to teach them to know each other and work as a group."
So far, the group likes the results.
"I haven't heard anybody say,'Oh, man, I have to go to practice now,'" Uecker said. "That's a big difference from the past."
But as Loughran said, the honeymoon is over. The Bulldogs have Glenwood Springs and Rifle this week.
"We have to keep a good attitude," Mann said. "It will take hard work but it's exciting to see things so far."
David Pressgrove can be reached at 824-7031 or email@example.com.