Bears hoping to reach competitive levels once again | PostIndependent.com

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.”

Softball:

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

Volleyball:

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.”

Volleyball:

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.”

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.

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.

Basalt Longhorns could have best team in years with 2016 version

In 2015, the Basalt Longhorn football team came within a whisker of qualifying for the 2A playoffs in the Western Slope League. Despite winning their final conference game of the year by a 20-14 count in Aspen, coach Carl Frerichs and the ’Horns missed out on the 16th, and final, postseason berth by just a couple of spots in the point system used to pick the top teams in the classification.

With 17 starters returning from a team that posted a 4-1 conference mark last year, Frerichs believes his group will have as good a shot as anyone to knock down the playoff barrier in 2016.

“The main thing is to stay healthy. Injuries are always big with a school our size,” stated Frerichs, who is in his ninth season guiding the Longhorns. “We just need to concentrate on bringing our ‘A’ game to practice each day, in games, and in the classroom. If we can do that, we should have a lot of success in everything we try to do.”

Basalt will have plenty of experience to fall back on this season, not to mention talent, as three all-conference seniors return for their final shot at the WSL crown. Miles Levy, Ian Lumsden and Cullen White will provide leadership and a season-long anchor on the field and in the locker room. Levy will call the signals for Basalt as their quarterback, while Lumsden will line up just a few yards behind him at running back. White will provide stability on the offensive and defensive lines.

The Longhorns will also throw four all-conference honorable mention players at their opponents this fall. Kyle Roberts, Alex Alberto, Raul Torres and Oswaldo Morales will provide depth to a Basalt team that may be among the best the school has fielded in recent years.

Frerichs forecasts all of this season’s upcoming Friday nights as being a test for his team, especially when conference play begins in late September.

“Every one of our conference games will be important,” said Frerichs. “We only have five games in the league, so if we want to win it, I think we are going to have to run the table and go 5-0.” The lone Western Slope League setback in 2015 for Basalt was a decisive one, as the Longhorns absorbed a 38-7 loss up north in Craig.

The Longhorns will get an idea of how good they really are in a hurry, as they will host a zero week game on Friday, Aug. 26, against the always formidable Rifle Bears.

“That will be a good test for us,” said Frerichs. “We have a lot of respect for [Rifle coach] Damon Wells and his program. It’s exciting and beneficial for our kids to play against a quality team like Rifle.”

Basalt’s final game of the season may be every bit as interesting as its first, as the Longhorns will travel down Highway 82 to face the rival Rams of Roaring Fork on Friday night, Oct. 28, in a game that could potentially have playoff implications for both teams.

Respect given may be respect earned this season as Basalt has all the ingredients to contend for the WSL title and keep popping the shoulder pads well into November in 2016. Going undefeated in the tough 2A WSL may be a tall order for the Longhorns, but that’s just what it could take to unseat Moffat County, and walk away as champions of the conference.

Plenty of workhorses available and expected to carry the load in Western Slope football

There’s something beautiful in the violence of smash mouth football at its purest form, which happens to be at the high school level.

For a large majority of the local schools in Garfield County (from Basalt to Grand Valley), the offensive schemes are quite simple in that they look to run right at you and impose their will on you over the duration of 48 minutes every Friday night.

While it can certainly be dangerous in light of recent happenings across the country when it comes to the safety of the game, these schools are tried and true in their football philosophies sticking to what works with great results.

What makes the schemes so unique in today’s football world is the fact that they’re old school. You will be hard-pressed to find run-and-gun offenses in this valley where quarterbacks are asked to throw the football 30-35 times a game like you’ll see on the Front Range, whether that’s at the high school, college or professional level.

In this valley, you’ll find the purest form of football — one that made the game of football so great in the first place: it’s my will against yours, so try and stop me.

Due to that mentality, the smash mouth style of football played right into our 2016 Garfield County Football Preview special this fall, as the Glenwood Springs Post Independent focuses in on the “workhorses” in the valley with Coal Ridge’s Cameron Chacon, Glenwood’s Jake Townsley, Grand Valley’s Levi Nolan, Rifle’s Blaine Vance and Roaring Fork’s Aldo Pinela all expected to shoulder a heavy load on both sides of the football this year for their respective schools.

RIFLE’S BELL-COW

Last season just two players in the valley rushed for more than 1,000 yards, mainly due to the depth at the position on each team and the distribution of carries throughout a game.

Both players hailed from Rifle, but Tyler Bosshardt (1,255 yards, 12.8 yards-per-carry) graduated, which leaves senior running back Blaine Vance as the go-to guy, per say, in the backfield once again for the Bears.

Last season as the down back in the Wing-T under Head Coach Damon Wells, Vance rushed for a team-high 1,341 yards (7.3 ypc) to go along with 13 touchdowns and seven 100-plus yard games.

With the graduation of Bosshardt and fellow Wing-T backfield teammates Ty Leyba and Ethan Strouse, Vance will once again be a centerpiece of the Bears’ offense. But much like Wells and his staff preaches throughout the year, Vance and the rest of the team knows that no player is bigger than the program.

That still doesn’t take away the fact that Vance is one of the best running backs coming into the 2016 season that has not only experience at the high school level, but high-end production as well.

No. 27 in blue and yellow is what you would label a “bell-cow running back” for the Rifle program.

“It’s pretty cool knowing that, but it’s also up to our linemen to make the holes for me to run through,” Vance said. “My job is easy when our system is smash mouth football; we’re like an 80 percent rushing team. Everybody keys on our rushing game, but the Wing-T is an all-around offense. You can do pretty much anything out of it.”

Sticking to the team mantra of Rifle Tough, Vance exemplifies that each and every Friday night as he plows through the line churning up yardage as the Bears move methodically down the field. Knowing that he’ll likely be called on a bit more in big spots, Vance isn’t worried because he’s prepared all offseason.

“I haven’t really changed anything about my routine to prepare for a heavier workload,” Vance said. “We have weights every morning throughout the school year and into the summer and guys have been in there non-stop. For me it was all about being consistent and staying on schedule and I feel like I’ve done a good job of that, so I think I’m ready for the fall.”

TOWNSLEY RUNNING THE SHOW

Despite a down year last season for the Glenwood Springs Demons, one significant bright spot emerged as junior quarterback Jake Townsley stepped up in a big way to carry a heavy burden offensively, not only as a passer, but as a runner as well.

The Demons were decimated with injury last fall, but the one constant seemed to always be Townsley. Now heading into his senior season with a full year of starting experience under his belt, much more will be expect of No. 12 in the red, white and black of Glenwood both through the air and on the ground.

Running a heavy read-option system, Townsley plays a significant role in the development of each play. Although not much has changed in terms of personnel, the senior signal caller is feeling much more comfortable in the offensive system under head coach Rocky Whitworth.

“I’m playing with all the same kids,” Townsley said. “We lost a few last year including [Will] Osier and a few others, but it’s mostly all the same for me. I really don’t have any excuses to fail this year, especially with a full year under my belt in this system. I love the offense we run here under Coach Rocky and I love that I get to control at lot of things in this offense.”

Headlining a group of just five seniors on the Glenwood football team this fall, Townsley will take on a significant leadership role as well after being named a team captain to go along with his standing as a senior leader.

That responsibility will be added not only on the field, but off the field in the classroom as well. But with the levelheaded demeanor that Townsley projects, the added responsibilities won’t hinder his performance on the field one bit.

The key, though, for Glenwood is to keep their standout players on the field this season. Last year was tough to get anything going consistently as injuries ravaged the depth chart week after week.

Knowing just how important he is to the offense, Townsley hit the weight room hard this offseason to prepare for the rigors of the season and the added punishment he’ll receive as the dual-threat quarterback.

“I’ve been lifting a lot and working on footwork and vision,” Townsley said. “Last year I just did a lot of looking straight ahead and didn’t really see what was in front of me, so that was a key to work on. But outside of that I was able to work on all of that at Western football camps. I went down to CMU for a camp, so getting some play time in the offseason was really nice and definitely helped me.”

Just how much the offseason preparation helped Townsley won’t be seen until the Demons take the field against the Conifer Lobos, September 2 at 7 p.m. at Stubler Memorial Field, but based off of preseason workouts, Townsley looks like a much-improved leader and player for Glenwood.

TAKING OVER THE LEADING ROLE

Last season for Roaring Fork, junior running back Aldo Pinela played a co-starring role with fellow running back Tyler Spence for the Rams.

Now, with the departure of Spence due to graduation, along with fellow backfield mate Finn Featherstone, Pinela finds himself at the center of a solo act for the Rams heading into the 2016 season.

Starting quarterback Hayden Bernot returns for his senior season under center and will likely add an option on the ground for the Rams and Head Coach Jeff Kelley, but based off of his play the last two years in the blue and gold, Pinela is in for a significant increase in usage.

Pinela touched the ball just 92 times combined last season (77 rushes, 14 receptions) for Roaring Fork, but as the main man this season in the backfield, one could expect that number to push over the 100 mark during his senior season.

“It’s a blessing to try and be able to be the guy to carry the team,” Pinela said. “Obviously I can’t do it by myself, but I need to be a leader this year and help younger guys step up around me. But there’s a trust with my teammates that they’ll step up and do just as much for me as I’ll try and do for them; it’s that trust that I don’t have to do everything and can just go out there and play.”

As one of the more dynamic athletes to come through Roaring Fork, Pinela isn’t focusing on what he can do individually for the Rams, but more of what he can do collectively with his teammates, which he hopes results in a winning record for the Carbondale high school that hasn’t had a season above .500 since the 2006 season in which they went 8-2.

The Rams came close last season in Kelley’s first year, finishing 4-5, but now the goal for Pinela and his teammates is a playoff berth.

“We want a winning season; that’s the goal for us,” Pinela said. “It would be cool to have a winning season at Roaring Fork, not only for the players and coaches, but for the community, fans and alumni. They deserve to see that too. For me personally, that’s been the big motivating factor this offseason and what’s driven me to be the best that I can be.

“I know there are other players in that room that feel the same was as I do.”

Should the Rams reach that goal, it will come largely on the production Pinela provides out of the backfield. That alone would pay off in a big way for the senior ball carrier, solidifying all the hard work he’s put in during his time at RFHS.

“It would be something else,” Pinela said. “It would give us that sense of pride, knowing that we put in all that work over the last four years. It would mean everything to see our goal come true.”

BOUNCING BACK IN BLUE

Cameron Chacon had a tough season last year, and it wasn’t due to anything he did on the field.

The junior running back was expected to have a big season as the lead back in Year One under Head Coach Trorie Rickert, but Chacon dealt with a number of injuries throughout the year before really coming on strong at the end of the season.

Now, fully healthy and gearing up for his senior season at Coal Ridge High School, Chacon has earned the right to be a leading workhorse in the Titans’ backfield as the blue, black and white look to make a push for the playoffs under Rickert.

While he’ll share the backfield with junior running back Jacx Power, Chacon will make arguably his biggest impact defensively lining up at outside linebacker on an improving defense that allowed 27.2 points per game.

“I’m mostly looking forward to lining up at outside linebacker and controlling the running game in front of me,” Chacon said. “Obviously I’m excited to get to run the ball again this year and show what I can do in this offense, but the coaches are going to limit just how much I play this year considering what I went through last season.”

As an athlete with size that thrives in space, Chacon can make a significant impact on both sides of the football in his senior season. Being in space is what Chacon loves most about football.

“I love this game so much,” Chacon said. “I’m so excited about this season that I really can’t put it into words. Defensively I like being a big contribution to the whole team. Being on the outside, knowing that people rely on me, I have a direct factor into what the opposing running backs and receivers do.”

It’s funny though how on one side of the ball Chacon will be looking to run past guys trying to stop him, while on the other side of the ball he’ll be flipping roles all in the name of helping the Titans win and win big this year.

Outside of that, it sure seems like the Coal Ridge football team is just glad to have their No. 3 healthy and back on the field for the fall.

YOUNG GUN FIRING UP CARDINALS FAITHFUL

It’s been a trying last few years for the Grand Valley Cardinals, but with second-year head coach Tim Lenard putting together some serious foundational work in Parachute for his program, it appears that brighter days are on the horizon.

Ending last year on a high note thanks to a 52-21 win over Lake County in Leadville that snapped a 26-game losing streak dating back to Oct. 26, 2012 against Coal Ridge, the Cardinals have been shuffling along.

But in that streak-snapping win, the future of the program was made very clear, and then-freshman running back Levi Nolan played a big part in that picture becoming clearer.

That day Nolan rushed for 189 yards and two touchdowns to lead Grand Valley to the win, capping off a great individual season for No. 6 in red and black. Now heading into his sophomore season, Nolan will again share the backfield with fellow sophomore Jonathan Pena and junior Jeff Holbrook.

However, with his performance throughout last season (81 carries, 428 yards, 4 TDs, 5.3 ypc) Nolan is poised for a breakout year this fall, putting his name on the map with the rest of the top running backs in the Western Slope League.

But due to the added depth that Grand Valley now has, expect to see Nolan moved all over the field to help him get as many touches as possible, whether that’s as a running back or as a receiver.

“I love them both, man,” Nolan said. “I like going out and making that good catch, and I like tucking it in and going ahead and smashing into defenders. Either way works for me, I just want to contribute as much as a I can offensively.”

Last season he might have been an unknown “secret” weapon of sorts for the Cardinals, but as the season progressed he became a significant threat as playing time increased, which led to teams game-planning to slow him down. Much of the same will be expected this season.

With all of the success he had last season as a freshman, Nolan knew coming into this year that he had to take that next step as a player.

“It was a whole new offense for me last season coming in as a freshman,” Nolan said. “So this offseason I had to work on reading the holes and making sure I made the right decision. On top of that I had to work on my footwork and balance to make me a more well-rounded player.”

Now heading into his second full season with plenty of experience under his belt, Nolan feels much more comfortable in the offense under Lenard and his staff. That comfortability could play a significant part in leading Grand Valley back towards prominent success as a team, while also pushing him closer to individual success. Based on the way he closed the 2015 season, 1,000 total yards isn’t out of reach at all for the sophomore in 2016.