There have been fewer girls than usual gasping for air at the Moffat County girls basketball team's practices this week. That pleases coach Craig Mortensen.
"This is some of the best shape I've had any team come back after break," he said.
Senior Cortney Grandbouche said the team worked hard over break to keep in shape.
"We didn't want to come back tired, so we did workouts and running on our own" she said. "There was dedication from a lot of the team."
Some of the dedication comes from the team's drive to improve from last year's Sweet 16 appearance.
The 2005-06 team goes into Western Slope League play one game better than last year's squad.
The newest version of Mortensen's team is 8-0 after the pre-league part of the season. It went undefeated in tournaments hosted by Vernal, Utah, and Green River, Wyo.
Three Bulldogs, sophomore Markie Workman, 13.6, senior Mari Katherine Raftopoulos, 12.9, and junior Cayla Maneotis, 11.3, average in double figures.
Now it's time for league play.
In every other sport, the beginning of league play is full of excitement and anticipation. For the girls basketball team, it can be somewhat discouraging.
The Bulldogs are 57-3 in regular season games against Western Slope League opponents the past four years. That includes three undefeated seasons with the three losses coming two years ago. That year, the Bulldogs lost three games and still finished second in the WSL.
Coach Craig Mortensen expects similar success for his team this year.
"If we take care of business, we'll be fine," he said. "Mentally preparing and getting up for each game is important."
Sometimes it takes an extra effort against a league team, Grandbouche said.
"We don't always go for the easiest basket," she said. "We work to find other options because we know that later in the season, we'll have to find those harder shots."
The Bulldogs moved into the state rankings for the first time this season in the middle of December. The Rocky Mountain News has Moffat County at No. 9.
Last year the Bulldogs entered the post season at No. 5.
"Rankings and records aren't our focus," Mortensen said. "What this team needs to work on is what we talk about in practice. That's getting better every game."
The Bulldogs begin the WSL season with three road games in five days. They open against 5-2 Palisade Friday and then travel to 4-1 Delta Saturday. Tuesday is the 45-mile trip east to rival Steamboat Springs.
"It's good to get the road games out of the way now," Mortensen said. "Better than in February."