Building a program is what Ben Bradley is focused on.
"Right now, we are working to build a quality work ethic," the first-year coach of the Rifle High School cross country team said. "The expectations we have are based on the fact this is a vastly improved program, and our goals extend far beyond times or meet finishes."
Granted, Bradley admits those are also important. The consensus of the team, however, is their overall commitment level will show how much the Bears have improved from last year's lower-tier finish at last year's district meet.
This year's Bears team will feature a few athletes who qualified for the Class 3A State Championships a year ago. While Rifle will move up to 4A this season, Bradley is confident his team will still compete and improve.
Part of that will come from senior Jake Statler, who returns from a state-qualifying season a year ago. Also returning is junior Jake Coombs, who improved in the 1,600- and 3,200-meters during the spring track and field season.
A pair of sophomores, Brendan Wagler and Colby Rennie, will also return. They'll be joined by a pair of newcomers in junior Erik Mendez and senior Kai Steinwinder.
On the girls side, sophomore Kelly Coombs will be the top returnee. Bradley said he also expects good things from sophomore Brenda DeLorea and senior Joey Kuheim, who placed at state in the throwing events.
Rifle begins its season on Aug. 31 with a meet in Delta. The Bears will host their annual cross country meet on Oct. 11 at Rifle Creek Golf Course.