Rich Carter isn't as proud of the Rifle High School boys soccer team's 2011 season as something that made it possible.
"The thing I loved the most was keeping all of the kids off the ineligibility list," the second-year coach said. "That helped us to gain a lot of consistency on the field. In the past, this team had a lot of problems with that."
Those past problems could turn into present assets for the upcoming season. Rifle, despite a 5-9-0 overall record, finished strong enough to earn its first state playoff berth in eight years. That berth resulted in a 6-2 first-round loss at Kent Denver in the 3A bracket, but Carter said there was a lot of positive carry-over from that season.
"We want to be competitive but, at the same time, we also want to learn and improve as the season progresses," Carter said. "In my mind, I really think we can be competitive."
The Bears move into the 4A Western Slope League, but Carter feels playing teams in the 3A WSL, like Coal Ridge and Basalt, helped prepare Rifle for the move up. A host of returning starters from a year ago could also help Rifle's chances.
Rifle's strongest asset will likely be its defense, and junior defenders Ryan Bell and Junior Calvillo return to help the Bears retain stability in the backfield. Also returning are senior midfielder Marco Gutierrez and junior midfielders Geo Munoz and Tonito Nagaya, each of whom Carter feels confident in.
Other key players this year, Carter said, include freshman striker Miguel Navarro, sophomore defender Alex Rivas and junior goalkeepers David Salgado and Micah Ziegler. Both goalkeepers will spend the early part of the season vying for playing time, Carter said.
Rifle begins its season on Sept. 4 with a league match at home against Delta.