Jeff Hammond's Bulldogs went 6-9-0 last season, Fruita Monument -- the Bulldog's first opponent -- was 9-6-1.
"They are a strong team," coach Hammond said.
Fruita is returning seven players to a team that had a strong showing in the class 5A playoffs last year. Even after losing 11 seniors to graduation, Fruita coach Dan McKee is confident his team is in a good place.
"We want to come up and play strong," McKee said. "Our junior class is very strong and we want to control the play on the field, and fine-tune our game."
McKee acknowledged he doesn't know a lot about Moffat County's team and that his team is coming into Thursday blindly.
"Hopefully we'll come out with a win," McKee said. "If anything, it's going to be more of a competition for us."
McKee thinks that smaller schools have the advantage of keeping players playing together, year round.
"It's a benefit, because they get the team to gel," McKee said.
Hammond is looking at the game with Fruita as a building point for the season.
"I expect to get a stronger feeling of where our strengths and weaknesses are," Hammond said. "I want to place our position players where their strengths, will cover the team's weaknesses."
Newly elected captain Ian Forgay said his team will improve by playing a better team early on.
"You always learn more when you play a team that is better," Forgay said. "We might not have the skill level as last year, but we're definitely playing more as a team."
With the opener at home Thursday, the Bulldogs will have little time to think about whether they won or lost, because they head to Grand Junction on Friday, to face off against another 5A school -- Grand Junction High School.
"We turn around and go to Grand Junction Friday, and then there's a holiday on Monday, so that is going to disrupt us some," Hammond said.
Hammond wants his team ready for league games that begin next week, starting with a intense match-up against Glenwood Springs.
"I want to prepare our guys for Glenwood," Hammond said. "They're our biggest rivals."
With a few lingering minor injuries to the Bulldogs, Hammond is playing it safe and letting those players rest before the Glenwood game.
"We don't have the numbers or depth to lose starters," Hammond said.
The Bulldogs had a scrimmage with Delta and Montrose on Saturday, and Forgay along with his fellow captain defenseman Tucker Bilodeau were surprised at what their team is capable of.
"Our first game against Montrose was our best game," Bilodeau said. "We were energized and ready to go."
Forgay said he thought the team did a good job of keeping up with Montrose and said that it went better than last year's scrimmage.
The Bulldogs played two 20-minute halves, and although they lost both, Hammond thinks the team has a better understanding of where it stands.
"Montrose is very talented, fast and very large," Hammond said. "They were all as tall as or taller than Tucker (6-foot-3) and a majority of them were seniors, so they have been playing a long time together."
When the Bulldogs squared off against Delta, Bilodeau said that the team was a little down after the loss to Montrose.
"Toward the end people were getting lazy," Bilodeau said.
Against Delta,, Hammond pulled his starters out and gave his backup players a chance to show their stuff. Veterans goalie Mike Lefler played both games.
"Mike did extremely well," Hammond said.
Lefler had 12 saves against Montrose and 10 against Delta.
"Skill-level wise we're doing pretty good," Hammond said. "The more experienced players are teaching the younger guys some different things."
Another face Hammond is glad to see back in the lineup is that of defenseman Trenton Duarte, who just returned from Mexico. Duarte competed in soccer as a sophomore and hit the trails for the cross-country team last season, but he is back in action for Hammond.
Thursday's game is the home opener for the Bulldogs. It starts at 4 p.m. at Loudy-Simpson Park.
Melanie McDaniels can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 211, or firstname.lastname@example.org.