The Colorado-Colorado Springs inline hockey team is eager to take on the big boys.
A year after winning the National Collegiate Roller Hockey Association's Division II championship, the first national club title for UCCS in any sport, the Mountain Lions are headed to Aston, Pa., to battle for the Division I crown.
"The national organization encouraged us to move up," starting junior goalie Tyler Lopez said. "Winning another national championship would be an even bigger deal than last year because it is a higher level. We have all the same guys as last year so we have a good chance."
UCCS is one of the top eight teams with the top seeds determined by pool play Wednesday and Thursday. Tournament play is Friday with the championship Saturday.
The Mountain Lions (12-1-2) won the Rocky Mountain league title and open against host and defending D1 national champion Neumann on Wednesday.
UCCS enters the tournament on an eight-game win streak. The players are confident they can win another national title in a better division characterized by stronger organizations and more-skilled teams.
The college inline game is a little different with two forwards, two defensemen and one goalie instead of the six in ice hockey.
Some Division II teams bring only six players to tournaments while Division I clubs have rosters of a dozen or more.
"It is a step up," said second-year mechanical engineering graduate student Matt Pedersen.
"We could have stayed in Division II but we wanted the challenge."
"It should be a good time," assistant captain Brandon Bogan said.
The Mountain Lions are led in scoring with 30 points apiece from Doherty High School graduate Zach Blake (16 assists) and Jake Miller (18 goals). Ryan Pedersen, who scored the overtime winner in last year's D-II title game, has 25 points (12 goals).
Eleven of the 14 UCCS players are from Colorado Springs.