Rifle High School's move back to the 4A classification doesn't bother Cindy Skinner one bit.
"Not at all," said Skinner, who is entering her 17th season as Rifle's softball coach. "We've been 4A for as long as I've coached, except for the past two years, when the economy took a dive."
Of course, Rifle's enrollment took a dive along with the economy, prompting the Bears' move to the 3A Western Slope League. But Rifle is back in the 4A classification this year, which is where Skinner said the Bears should be.
"When you're playing those kinds of teams, as long as the girls work hard and put in a lot of effort, they should be able to compete with just about anybody," Skinner said.
The Bears were right in the thick of things in the 3A WSL last year, finishing third with a 4-4 league mark and an 11-10 overall record. Three of those losses in league play were by two runs or less, and the Bears were able to reach the 3A state playoffs.
Many of the players from last year's team are back this season, and Skinner feels the experience the Bears gained will carry over into their 2012 campaign.
"I think these guys will be able to play in this league and keep up with everyone," she said. "With different teams, I'm not really sure where they're at. But I know what we have to do.
"We have to build up and be defensively strong because we do have good pitching," Skinner continued. "These girls want to do well with that, and if we're not there right now, we'll get there."
Junior pitcher Taylor Gore will be the main player toeing the rubber for the Bears as one of Rifle's key returnees. Junior shortstop Emma Speer and junior catcher Brittany Neuroth, both of whom earned all-star accolades last season, join a host of key returning players, which includes senior infielder Cassidy Blackard and senior utility player Cheyenne Roark.
Other players Skinner feels could contribute greatly this season are juniors Mary Wright (outfield and catcher), Taylor Morris (utility) and Jordan Smith (outfield), along with sophomores Allie MaGee (outfield and pitcher) and Melissa Steinbach (outfield).
Rifle opens its season with a 4A WSL game on Aug. 28 at Delta.