Rifle High School's boys and girls basketball teams each have new coaches this season. Sort of.
Roger Walters, who ran the boys program for seven years before stints at Roaring Fork, Grand Valley and Mesa State College/Colorado Mesa University, has returned to coach the boys team. Rick Schmitz, who is in his 34th season of coaching overall, is back at the helm after a long stint as the girls hoops coach and athletic director at Coal Ridge High School.
Both coaches have returned to their old stomping grounds at Rifle, where they'll lead the school's basketball squads when their seasons open tonight.
"I've gotta play catchup a little bit," Schmitz said, jokingly. "I'm not used to 4A right now, so I've gotta do my homework a little bit and try to watch some teams out there play."
Plenty of people have looked forward to watching the teams of both coaches play over the years. Recently, Walters spent three years coaching at Mesa - leading the Mavericks to the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference tournament his final two seasons - and led Roaring Fork's boys basketball team deep into the 3A state tournament several times. He was also successful at Rifle, helping the Bears win consistently from 1995 to 2002. He takes over a team which finished 9-15 overall last year, losing to The Pinnacle in the first round of the 3A state playoffs.
When Chris Lowther stepped down from his post as the head boys hoops coach, Walters jumped at the opportunity to be closer to home. And now that football season has ended, Walters has had a full squad to work with as the Bears prepared to play their season opener at 4:45 p.m. today against Montrose in the first round of the Steamboat Springs Shootout.
With limited time spent with his full team, it may take a little while for the Bears to establish their identity as a team. The initial plan is to control the boards and use rebounding to spark a strong transition game.
"I think we're talented at the point guard position," said Walters in reference to 6-foot-1 junior point guard Trent Brown. "Trent is going to have the ball for us a huge majority of the time. We're going to push when we can, but we have to be able to rebound and control the boards."
Besides Brown, junior Tanner Quick (6-6) will be relied upon to help control those boards, along with Zach Walters (6-0) and Wyatt Robinson (6-3). In the back court, Tanner Rust (5-9) and Jake Statler (6-2) will see plenty of time at the guard positions.
Senior Adam Rice (5-10, guard), Kellan Johnson, (6-2, forward/guard) and junior Clinton Farr, (forward) are also expected to help now that they've joined the team following football season.
Schmitz, with his return, enters his 17th season coaching the Bears. His teams at Rifle and Coal Ridge have also seen plenty of state tournament appearances.
Schmitz takes over for Stephanie Heald, who left because of her family's relocation to Texas. He assumes a program that has lost less than a handful of games (four) in the past two seasons, and he's encouraged by what he has seen as his team prepared to play D'Evelyn at the Steamboat Shootout at 6:30 p.m. tonight.
"It's nice to have so many returning starters, and it's going to help in establishing a cohesive defensive philosophy," Schmitz said. "We're really stressing that right now because we can build our offense as the year goes along."
Seniors Joey Kuheim (5-10, post), Jazz Figeuera (5-8, point guard) and Kara Walters (5-7, wing), along with junior Shante Church (5-7, wing/point guard) all saw lots of time in the starting lineup last season. Junior Carsyn Copeland (5-8, wing) and senior Kim Rausen (5-9, post/wing) are also expected to contribute heavily.
"I really like the competitiveness and the willingness to listen with this group," Schmitz said. "They want to be coached, and if we're going to reach our potential as a group, we really need to have good defense and good rebounding."