Letter: Traffic worsening | PostIndependent.com

Letter: Traffic worsening

As I (who actually live in Glenwood Springs) try to drive across Grand Avenue, it is becoming more and more frustrating. The commuter traffic can’t refrain from blocking the intersections — granted most of them are too busy on their cell phones to be aware of what they are doing — but if they might look up maybe they could see that there is no room for them before they enter the intersection.

Those of us who are trying to cross Grand have 5-10 seconds of green light in which to do so, then we wait forever for another green light. Ridiculous, right? Eighth street is especially concerning since the Fire Department and paramedics often need to come out on Grand there.

Maybe a notice on the pavement, a sign, a traffic cop at rush hour (paid by the bridge construction) something so we do not have to wait through five or six lights to get across. Of course then you carry on to the four-way stop at the courthouse where grown adults can’t figure out how to take turns. It amuses me when the kids are in the backseat as to what kind of manners and fair play they are teaching them. They need a traffic cop there too, in my opinion.

Please, people, wake up, have a heart, put down your cell phone. We all have to get through this together and it is going to get worse before it gets better. In all honesty, I don’t believe it will get better when they are done; we will just have the same gridlock and inconsiderate people driving through our town. We can only hope.

Tricia Farrell

Glenwood Springs

Letter: Learn about ColoradoCare

I’d like to call the attention of local voters to an issue on the November ballot that will have a huge impact on all of us — the ColoradoCare Amendment 69. The idea for a health-care system in Colorado that would cover every Colorado resident began 10 years ago. Gov. Owens appointed a panel of knowledgeable Coloradans who have researched and planned extensively to develop an economically sound program that would meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act and the needs of all Colorado citizens at a cost much lower than our current private insurance system.

While it is an innovative system (in my mind that’s a good thing) the in-depth research incorporated in its design shows that it is financially sustainable, and would provide health care for all Coloradans at a cost much less than our current insurance system that raises rates every year, especially in this high cost part of the state. After its gradual implementation over the next couple of years, ColoradoCare would charge a premium tax of 10% to residents (often split 6.67% by employers and 3.33% for employees) to provide complete health care. At the same time the plan would pay care providers an income competitive to other states with special incentives for rural areas like ours. What an opportunity for Colorado to lead the way for other states.

There are many details that won’t fit in a letter, but you can learn more about this system, and how it would impact you personally, at a community information session at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 31 at the Rifle Public Library or at 6:30 p.m. Thursday Sept. 1 at the Parachute Recreation Center. You can also learn more about the program at www.ColoradoCare.org. Don’t be swayed by ads that cast suspicion. Learn for yourself about this game-changing proposal and see how it would affect you and those you love.

Cathy Carlson


Bears hoping to reach competitive levels once again

Back for another season at the helm of the Rifle softball program, head coach Troy Phillips has a veteran team returning for the 2016 season, and with the number of experienced players returning, the pieces are in place for the Bears to make a run at the 4A Western Slope League title.

Last year’s seniors — Payton Phillips and Mackyla Parsons — have moved on due to graduation, but this year’s seniors — Kristen Fulton, Alexys Holder and Alexus Hendee — are back for their final go-around with Rifle softball.

Joining the trio of seniors is junior Peyton Caldwell and standout sophomore Kaitlyn Jackson, who was named to the 4A All-Conference team in 2015 as a freshman pitcher, as well as fellow sophomores Kaitlyn Harris and Shaeley Arneson, both of whom joined Jackson on the All-Conference team in 2015.

With the amount of young talent returning, the Bears are looking to make a push towards the playoffs in 2016.

“We hope to continue to improve,” Phillips said. “We have a ton of experience coming back, so another year of having the players in the system should really help us out. There’s a lot of team speed in key areas and we’re hoping to score some more runs this season and add some more wins.”


Head Coach: Troy Phillips, second season

Last season: 8-11, 2-4 4A Western Slope League

Key Returners: Alexys Holder, Sr., 1B/SS/UTIL; Peyton Caldwell, Jr., INF/P; Kaitlyn Jackson, So., P/OF/1B; Kaitlyn Harris, So., C/P/INF; Shaeley Arneson, So., 3B/INF; Kristen Fulton, Sr., OF; Alexus Hendee, Sr., SS/P; Peyton Caldwell, Jr., INF/P

A new head coach and an experience core of players has the Rifle Bears boys soccer program hoping for tangible improvements in 2016.

Former head coach Rich Carter stepped down, clearing the way for David Romero, who takes over a scuffling program that has won just seven games the last two years while winning three total league games over the past two seasons.

But with a new coach in place and the help of a feeder club system in Rifle, the Bears should see an uptick in production, interest and results soon enough.

Senior captain Alexis Ramos returners to lead the Bears in 2016 coming off of a seven-goal season in 2015. Along with Ramos, sophomore Edgar Jaimes, sophomore Diego Suarez, senior Jose Quinones and junior Sam Rossilli return this fall having all scored at least one goal in 2015.

“They’re going to have a big impact,” Romero said. “With a lot of new players coming up this year, the speed of play is going to have a heavy impact on them for sure. It’s going to be huge for us to have goal scorers returning to us that we can rely on this year.”

Junior goalkeeper Chad Opstein also returns for another year looking to build off of a strong season despite facing nearly 12 shots per game last fall.

Boys Soccer:

Head Coach: David Romero, first season

Last season: 2-13, 0-9 3A Western Slope League

Key Returners: Alexis Ramos, Sr., D/MF; Edgar Jaimes, So., D/MF; Diego Suarez, So., MF; Jose Quinones, Sr., STRK; Sam Rossilli, Jr., D/MF; Caleb Opstein, Jr., GK, Oscar Crispin, Jr., D


Head Coach: Kristen Noska, second season

Last season: 2-21, 0-14 2A Western Slope League

Key Returners: Sydney Wells, Sr.; Mackenzie Ventrello, Sr.; Fabiola Lopez, Sr.

Cardinals fall sports gearing up for a resurgence

Looking to build off of a strong season last fall, the Grand Valley Cardinals are back and ready for action on the court for girls volleyball this fall, led by head coach Dave Walck, who steered the Cardinals to a 14-11 (6-1 2A Western Slope League) record in 2015.

Last season, the Cardinals rolled through much of the 3A WSL before running into the league-champion Coal Ridge Titans. Grand Valley finished second overall in the league during the regular season and the league tournament before winning their opening-round state playoff matchup against St. Mary’s.

Unfortunately for Grand Valley, the Cardinals fell in the second round of the playoffs to Faith Christian, ending a terrific season.

Now, the Cardinals are back for 2016 looking to get over the hump and advance to the next level.

Gone is senior captain Allie Dovey, but this year the Cardinals will be much more experienced, with seniors Kylyn Rigsby, Bailey Rowe, Kali Jablonski, Lohgan McClung and Taylor Mills returning for one more year on the court. Two Rifle transfers — Tara Ruggles and Bryce Ettles — will add to the experience for the Cardinals’ senior class, although both have to sit out the first 11 matches of the season due to transfer rules.

Joining a loaded senior class is junior Katrina Knudson, who will contribute once again this season for Grand Valley, which hopes to win the 3A WSL this season with a veteran team under Walck.

“Experience is definitely our area of strength coming into the year,” Walck said. “We have some solid leadership in our senior class, which has invested a lot of time and energy over the years leading up to this final year. We’re just trying to develop our skill set, play some solid defense and come up with some new offensive looks to control the court this year.”


Head Coach: Dave Walck

Last season: 14-11, 6-1 3A Western Slope League, lost in regional tournament to Faith Christian

Key Returners: Kylyn Rigsby, Sr.; Bailey Rowe, Sr.; Kali Jablonski, Sr.; Lohgan McClung, Sr.; Taylor Mills, Sr.; Katrina Knudson, Jr.

Grand Valley boys soccer had a very trying season last fall for the Cardinals under head coach Chris Walker.

The Cardinals, who fielded a team full of upperclassmen, really struggled to get on track early in the season before coming together down the stretch to pick up their two wins of the year over Rifle, 6-0 and 3-2.

Now, heading into the 2016 season the Cardinals will see the return of seniors Matt Cornelius, Christian Vicencio, Johnny Downing, Lionel Pena and Alex Shuckers. With another batch of experienced leaders, Grand Valley hopes to add more wins to the standings this fall.

Boys Soccer:

Head Coach: Chris Walker

Last season: 2-12, 2-7 3A Western Slope League

Key Returners: Matt Cornelius, Sr.; Christian Vicencio, Sr.; Johnny Downing, Sr; Lionel Pena, Sr.; Alex Shuckers, Sr.

Demons hoping to shake off injury bug, bounce back in 2016

The 2015 season was very unkind to the Glenwood Springs Demons under veteran head coach Rocky Whitworth.

An absurd number of injuries to key players and limited experience across the board played a significant factor in a down year for the red and white, but now the Demons have appeared to get through the dark times much stronger than they were before.

Now, heading into the 2016 season, excitement is high around a program filled with a lot of young — but experienced — skill players and a veteran quarterback that should be one of the top players in the valley this season.

“For us, it’s all about staying healthy this season,” Whitworth said. “We’re going to be young, but we don’t want to have to move players around. We want to improve our competitive ability each and every week, but that starts with staying healthy.

Last season, Jake Townsley drew a tough assignment as a junior. Townsley had to fill the shoes of former signal caller Dante Sparaco — who transferred to Cherry Creek — while also trying to develop a large number of young skilled position players with limited high school experience.

Things would have been fine for the Demons if the injury bug didn’t bite early and often, forcing a high number of starters out of the lineup at one time or another, resulting in a very trying year for Glenwood.

Fortunately for the Demons, the injuries allowed younger players to step up and get valuable high school experience down the stretch. That fact alone, along with the added experience of Townsley, should play a significant role in the outcome of the 2016 season under Whitworth.

“Jake has had a fantastic year,” Whitworth said. “He’s been traveling around to all these camps and getting work in gearing up for the season. He’s a great leader for us.”

Along with Townsley under center, senior running back Easton Gaddis and sophomore receiver Luke Gair return with a year of high school experience under their belts. Gaddis will take over the bulk of the work in the backfield, replacing Matt Osier due to graduation, while Gair will team up with senior Luke Patch.

“They’re skilled guys for us and we need to get the ball in their hands,” Whitworth said. “For us that’s what it’s all about. We need to get the ball on the edge where they can make people miss and try to figure out a way to control the ball with that kind offense.”

Up front, the Demons will have some size along the offensive line as senior center Jesse DuPlesys and tackles Ethan McGill and Alonzo Hernandez will lead the way.

Defensively, Glenwood should improve in 2016 again due to the young players that gained experience last season.

Juniors Jack Reis and John Jensen will hold down the middle of the field at linebacker, while guys like McGill, Townsley, Gair and Gaddis should provide veteran leadership at key areas on a defense that is looking to get back to the respectable level at which they performed during the 2014 season, when Glenwood went 6-5.

Despite the tough season in 2015, things seem to be looking up for the Demons heading into this season.

Although still competing in a tough 3A Western Slope League with teams like Rifle, Palisade and Eagle Valley, a playoff berth isn’t out of reach for the young Demons under their Hall of Fame head coach.

“We’ve had a pretty good summer overall,” Whitworth said. “We’re still in a position to improve a lot, but at this time of year the attitude and effort is always good. I think the players have come back and focused in and are in better condition. We have a small number of seniors, but their leadership is good. But right now if we work hard and buy in we’ll be more competitive.”

With the injury bug hopefully behind them, the Demons could see a return to the upper echelon of the 3A WSL in 2016.

Fresh faces poised to lead Rifle back to playoffs for sixth straight year

The 2015 season ended in heartbreaking fashion for the Rifle Bears football team, which dropped its opening-round state playoff game to Discovery Canyon, ending any chance at returning to the 3A state championship game. But what really made the loss that much more painful was the number of key contributors that would leave the program due to graduation, headlined by All-State running back/safety Ty Leyba, 1,000-yard rusher Tyler Bosshardt and standout center Joe Kosht.

Now, heading into the 2016 season, the Bears will have to replace six starters on offense, including a new center, quarterback and two new running backs, but with the philosophy of each team having a lifespan of one year under head coach Damon Wells, the Bears are poised to make the most of this season’s lifespan with a return to the top of the 3A Western Slope League standings and another berth in the state playoffs.

“You know, it’s funny because at this time last year people were asking us the same questions of how we’d replace key graduating seniors,” Wells said. “We did well last year, but who knows what’s going to happen because we play a brutal schedule. It’s so hard to schedule games on the Western Slope, and then we lost some teams out of our division, so it’s going to be a tough season for us with the schedule.”

Last season Rifle had just three nonleague games, but in 2016 that number will jump to four as Delta and Steamboat Springs left the 3A WSL, dropping the number of teams in the league from eight to six.

But that doesn’t mean the Bears will make excuses. They never do; they’ll just head out each and every Friday night to take on whomever is across from them.

Led by senior running back/linebacker Blaine Vance and standout junior guards Ramon Salvidrez and Connor Gould, the Bears have a solid foundation in place once again.

Last season, Vance led the Bears in rushing with 1,341 yards and 13 touchdowns. With the departures of Bosshardt (Colorado Mesa University) and Leyba (Western State Colorado University), Vance will once again be relied upon heavily in the Rifle running game, which averaged 352.5 yards per game in 2015 while scoring just under 40 points per game.

Joining Vance in the backfield will be junior quarterback Luke Ellis, who will take over under center for Ethan Strouse. Along with Ellis, junior Camron Shepherd and senior Drake Montgomery will be relied upon heavily out of the backfield.

That being said, though, the Bears won’t be afraid to spread the carries evenly, even if there is a slight lack of experience in the backfield compared to last season.

“We don’t really scheme accordingly for anyone,” Wells said. “Part of what’s unique with us — and I don’t know if it’s unique compared to others because I only know the way we do it here — but Drake [Montgomery] played a ton for us last year offensively. Yes, he wasn’t a starter, but we have all the faith in the world in his abilities out of the backfield. Same goes for Camron [Shepherd], so there are a lot of kids that maybe people don’t know their names, but they’re still Rifle football players.”

Rifle’s prolific running game out of the wing T all starts with outstanding guard play, which Salvidrez and Gould will provide for the second straight year. Having those two on the interior will allow the Bears to bring along a young offensive line, but much like the program has in the past, don’t expect a drop in play as the Bears are so sound with development that Wells and his staff can plug-and-play right away.

“I feel like we’ve been doing some really good things with the new offensive line,” Gould said. “The expectations have been set from the seniors last year, but with Ramon and I, it’s up to us as leaders along the offensive line to help carry on those expectations up front.”

Defensively, the Bears will feature a new secondary and a mostly rebuilt defensive line for a defense that allowed just over 12 points per game, including three straight shutouts early in the season.

Senior defensive tackle Alex Cordova will be featured along the defensive line full time this year after making the move from cornerback to the trenches midway through the year, while the combination of Vance and Salvidrez will clean up the running game at middle linebacker.

There will be plenty of new faces and new names on the field this season for the Bears, but expectations on and off the field won’t change. Rifle will play to its strengths and hope to win some football games.

“These guys are going to go out there and give it their all every game,” Cordova said. “They’re not going to let anyone down. I expect us to do some great things this year because I’ve seen the time and effort we’ve put in leading up to this year.”

An exciting season lies ahead in Western Slope Leagues

When I first moved to the Western Slope last August, I had no idea what lay before me with high school sports coverage.

As you can imagine, I came in as green as possible, not knowing any of the coaches, players, athletic directors and other key members of the five schools originally in my coverage area. What made that so tough was that two days after my first day at the Post Independent, the first official high school football games for the local schools kicked off.

It’s hard enough to cover high school sports year to year with the ever-changing names, coaches and systems, but this was basically tenfold for me. I had no clue who the coaches were, what players to watch (let alone who wore what number), and I had no clue what type of football to expect.

But I was certainly in for a great surprise. You see, the brand of football I grew up around was the three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust style that I played growing up, so watching teams like Rifle, Coal Ridge, Grand Valley and Roaring Fork feature a heavy ground game was quite fun to cover, while Glenwood Springs did something different that provided more of a “modern” style of play with the spread option.

The football in the area was entertaining and kept me on my toes throughout the season because I didn’t really know what to expect week to week. I loved that as a reporter.

But I’ll be honest, football season wasn’t always fun for me.

Last fall was a complete whirlwind for me personally, considering the big move across the country I had just made while trying to keep my head above water professionally in a valley that expects great local sports coverage day to day.

That was hard for me to do at first because I had so many relationships to establish and trust to gain, all while trying to provide the best possible coverage I could.

Fortunately for me (and I’m sure the readership as well), I made it through football season and really found my footing shortly thereafter.

Now, heading into my second full year at the PI — and my first full summer of football coverage leading up to the regular season — I’m much more comfortable with where I’m at personally and professionally. That, I hope, plays a significant factor into the coverage I’ll look to provide you this fall.

As far as the actual football goes, though, I’m exceptionally excited to get this season started. Despite being overlooked overall, the Western Slope Leagues have plenty of talent top to bottom, especially locally.

Glenwood dealt with a significant number of unlucky injuries last year, so hopefully the injury bug will leave them alone and allow a young team under Rocky Whitworth to put together a full season and see just how much talent and potential they have, especially at skill positions.

In Rifle, it’s business as usual around the team, but I’m itching to see how the Bears bounce back from a tough close to last season while also replacing some great players from that program.

Coal Ridge should take a significant step forward in year two under Trorie Rickert, especially offensively. I’m intrigued to see just how the Titans’ offense can click on all cylinders with many key players entering their senior season.

The same can be said for Grand Valley, at least in terms of heading into year two under Tim Lenard. Snapping the 26-game losing streak that dated back to 2012 was a great way to end last season for Lenard and the Cardinals, and combining the amount of young, dynamic talent they have at skill positions, 2016 should be a good one for Grand Valley as they break in a new facility.

Finally, Roaring Fork should give Carbondale fans plenty to cheer about this season. There is a strong foundation in place under Jeff Kelley, who is also heading into his second year at the helm.

There’s tons of veteran talent there, so this could be the year the Rams return to the 2A playoffs.

If everything breaks right for all the teams in the valley this season, we could see all five heading to the state playoffs. Personally, that’s what I’m hoping for.

All summer long I saw how hard these kids around the valley were working and preparing for the season. Based on the amount of work put in, every kid deserves a trip to the playoffs. That would be great for Western Slope exposure and could break some poor narratives about the competition on this side of the Rockies.

So, I wish nothing but the best of luck and health to all the schools here in the valley.

I’m looking forward to covering you all here in my second year with the PI. Let’s get started!

Cardinals hoping for big jump in second season under Lenard

Heading into the 2015 season, things seemed very dire for a rebuilding Grand Valley program under first-year head coach Tim Lenard.

Results on the field weren’t great, but there was plenty of exciting young talent on the way. Finally, at the very end of the regular season, the Cardinals had a breakthrough on the field, snapping a 26-game losing streak that stretched all the way back to Oct. 21, 2012, against Coal Ridge.

Now, with a win in its pocket, the vibe around this year’s version of the Grand Valley football team is more upbeat, and expectations are higher with those same dynamic skill players and a veteran group of leaders in the trenches on both sides of the ball.

The level of excitement and commitment heading into year two under Lenard is apparent just by watching the Cardinals practice on their brand new field in Parachute.

“Excitement is very high right now,” Lenard said. “That comes with what we did at the end of last year and what he have in place this year. The commitment has also been great all offseason. We routinely had 15 to 18 guys in the weight room this summer, and they’re excited and much stronger.”

Unlike last season, the Cardinals now have quite a bit to be excited about, starting at the skills positions as dynamic sophomore running backs Jonathan Pena and Levi Nolan return with tons of experience at the high school level, while senior linemen Austin Walck, Evan Hoff and Austin Fox return up front to pave the way.

But despite having all of this young, experienced talent returning, it appears as though most in the 1A Western Slope League continue to overlook the improving Cardinals as a serious threat.

Frankly, that’s OK with the Cardinals’ coaching staff.

“We like being in that position of being overlooked,” Lenard said. “Hopefully we can sneak up on some people this year. I think we’re definitely going to be improved from last year, and I think if the kids keep buying in and continue to work hard, we’ll have some success. I like being the underdog, but if we don’t have a goal of the playoffs, we’re wasting our time out here.”

With the roster in place, there’s no telling how high the ceiling is with the Cardinals, not only this season, but moving forward with Lenard at the helm.

But despite being young at key spots, having the right seniors in place will help develop the program moving forward, especially with teams overlooking them.

“It definitely drives us,” Hoff said. “Other teams are looking down on us like we’re nothing, but we can show up and smack them in the mouth and show who we are. There’s a sense of pride in that.”

On the field, the Cardinals have plenty of experience — regardless of class level — to rely on in 2016 on both sides of the ball, especially around the line of scrimmage.

Offensively, the Cardinals will feature a heavy dose of Pena and Nolan in the running game with Fox, Hoff and Walck opening up holes.

There is a quarterback battle underway between Jeff Holbrook, Caleb Hughes, Jason Schubert and Emmet Kuper, but whomever wins the job will have plenty of talent to throw the ball to in receivers Laytham Magana, Angel Garcia, Garret Magee and Kalb Mercato.

“We want to be fast and physical, and aggressive,” Walck said. “We have a ton of skill and experience, so we want to put up some points this year and play an exciting style of football.”

Defensively, the Cardinals’ strength remains in the trenches as Fox and fellow senior Andrew Kinghen return to hold down the defensive line, while Hoff and Walck lead the way at linebacker.

Invert safeties Pena and Nolan will be asked to play all of the field in Grand Valley’s 3-3 Stack defense, while Holbrook, Magana and Schubert will look to force turnovers in the secondary.

Overall, the talent is apparent with the Cardinals, but it’s up to the commitment from the players to fulfill the vast potential they have as a team in 2016.

“We’re excited and we’re ready to win,” Nolan said. “We’ve worked so hard this offseason and that win to close the year has really fueled our hunger to win. It’s time to show teams how much better we are.”

Roaring Fork Rams looking to post first winning season since 2007

Second year Roaring Fork coach Jeff Kelley points to his 10 seniors and seven returning starters as being the strength of the team going into the 2016 football campaign. Kelley is especially confident in his boys in the trenches, as he mentions both the offensive and defensive line play as being an area the Rams can hang their hats — or helmets, if you will.

“Our line play should be really solid this year,” said Kelley. “That is certainly an area of strength for us.” The coach is also quick to mention two seniors, Kade Kennedy and Reed Featherstone, who played both ways in the interior in every game last season.

The Rams started out quickly and in impressive fashion last year by defeating a very tough 1A opponent in the Meeker Cowboys by a score of 16-14. To replicate the stellar beginning of 2015, Roaring Fork’s key ingredients in the recipe for success may be the quarterback play of senior Hayden Bernot, and the Rams’ ability to run the football, where Kelley will be trying to replace all-state rusher Tyler Spence, who graduated and is walking on to the football team at the University of Colorado.

“I think Hayden will do a great job quarterbacking the team. He’s a second year starter, and we may have him run the ball a little bit more this year. We’ll have more plays specifically designed for the quarterback to get out and run,” said Kelley. “With his talent, I think he’ll surprise the league.”

The situation in the rest of the backfield behind Bernot may be a bit more up in the air, as Kelly is contemplating a running back-by-committee approach to start off the season.

“We have some good athletes we can put back there. Aldo Pinela, Alex Dominguez and Jake Kelley may all need to step up at times and play running back for us,” stated Kelley.

As most coaches will tell you this time of year, Kelley said his Rams will need to stay as healthy as possible during the rigors of a long season, and play good, sound, fundamental football.

Kelley sees the road to the WSL championship going straight through Craig and the Moffat County Bulldogs.

“Moffat is the team to beat in the conference,” said Kelley. “Steamboat Springs is dropping down from 3A, so they will be tough. Basalt has some talented kids and lots of returning depth, and that is a big rivalry game for us.”

The Rams lost to both Moffat County (49-23) in Craig, and to Basalt in a close contest (21-17) in Basalt.

Turning the tables this season against those two teams especially, will go a long way toward the Rams’ chances of being in the playoff chase. Roaring Fork was able to muster Western Slope League wins against only Aspen (51-24) and Coal Ridge (27-0) last year.

Roaring Fork will open the season at home on Sept. 2 against an Olathe team that is always well-put-together.

The conference slate pits the Rams against Moffat County and Steamboat Springs to start things off, so it will be right out of the frying pan and into the fire for the crew from Carbondale.

Battling a lack of depth and several tough conference dates could be a season-long challenge for the Rams, but if their bevy of two-way players can stay healthy, and stay the course, look for Roaring Fork to give everyone on its schedule plenty of trouble.

Coal Ridge Titans setting sights high for second season under Rickert

Things are certainly looking up for the Coal Ridge Titans heading into year two under head coach Trorie Rickert.

Last season, the Titans missed making the 2A Colorado High School Activities Association’s state playoffs by just one game. So now, with a full year of experience and a higher level of comfort and commitment from the players under Rickert, the Titans are setting their sights high for the 2016 season with a playoff berth being the expectation for the New Castle high school.

“I think the improvement from year one to year two has been made,” Rickert said. “I don’t think that we’d think any less of winning league or getting into the playoffs, but I do think it’s realistic; I’m not going to put anything out there for our kids that’s not [realistic]. But I definitely believe it, especially with the talent that we have and the kids putting in the work that they have, we should be right there battling for it.”

A large reason the Titans should be right in the mix this season for the playoffs is a more well-balanced offense featuring an experienced passing attack led by senior quarterback Jackson Sargent and senior receiver Jacob Morgan. Joining Sargent and Morgan is dynamic receiver Raul Ramirez, who has really impressed in summer workouts, while juniors Stephen Pizzelli and Lane Plummer could be in the mix at receiver as well.

“I’m really excited for the passing game this year,” Morgan said. “We’re a lot more comfortable in the system and things seem to be much sharper, so we hope that will translate over to the season. Jackson looks a lot better with his technique.”

One thing that should really push the passing game forward is the major step in development that Sargent should take in his third season as a starter in the black and blue. A lot of that has to do with added experience and confidence in the system, but one thing Rickert was quick to point out was his decision making.

“I’ve seen some improvement here in camp with the passing game,” Rickert said. “His reads and knowing where to go with the ball have been quick and decisive, and that’s the next step he needs to take.”

Along with an improved passing game, the Titans will once again feature a powerful rushing attack led by senior Cameron Chacon and junior Jacx Power. The duo should combine for solid production on the ground, providing serious balance for an offense looking to take a substantial step forward from an offense that averaged just 13.7 points per game in 2015.

“I want to make sure that Cameron and I can keep it going this year,” Power said. “Hopefully Cameron can stay healthy this year because we really need him, and with what we have up front with our offensive line we should do really well running the ball. The offensive line seems bigger than what we had last year, so I’m excited.”

Defensively, Coal Ridge hopes to make strides this season by cutting down on the number of points allowed per game. Now in the same system for the second year in a row, the Titans should be able to just react and play football at a high level this season, led by Ramirez and Morgan in the secondary, along with Chacon and Power at linebacker.

Adding to the depth at defense, Kevin Juarez and Gage Clemons will prominent roles along the defensive line, while guys like Tripper Gore and Eddy Baez will see some time at linebacker for the Titans.

“We’re running a similar defense to last year,” Morgan said. “I feel like we know the plays a lot better, and we feel so much more comfortable with the scheme and the coaching staff.”

But what it all comes down to with the Titans and the improvement that is expected in 2016 is the level of commitment shown from last season to this season when it comes to offseason work, both on and off the field. Really, that’s where the game is won and lost at its core, whether a team puts in the work during down time or not.

Fortunately for Coal Ridge, the players on this season’s roster have fully bought in to what the coaching staff is teaching and expecting.

“I’ve seen these kids working hard and buying into the program,” Rickert said. “We’ve had kids lifting and working out all summer, and they’ve all really bought in. They’ve become leaders and upperclassmen and have really been working hard, and the kids seem to really know what we’re trying to do here.”

Now, it’s time to see if all of that hard work and dedication will pay off on the field and result in an increase in wins and a 2A state playoff berth.