Roger Walters knew all too well what he could have been missing when he left his post as Colorado Mesa University's women's basketball coach earlier this year.
"Oh, yeah," the Rifle High School boys basketball coach said. "Don't think I didn't know that."
Walters, who had served as the Mavericks' coach for four seasons, jumped at the opportunity to coach the Rifle boys when the position came open this past spring. He left behind a Mesa squad which, headed into this weekend's games at New Mexico Highlands and Western New Mexico, is 20-1 overall, 16-1 in Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference play, and is ranked seventh as of the Feb. 5 USA Today/WBCA Top 25 poll.
But Walters, whose Rifle Bears have won six consecutive games after a 1-6 start in Class 4A Western Slope League play, recruited every one of the players on the Mavs' roster. He struggled with the decision to leave when the chance to come back to his home town presented itself, but it's a decision he doesn't regret.
"You get real attached to the kids," Walters said. "We knew they were going to be really, really good, and I told the girls that when I left. But I also told them that doing the right thing isn't always easy, but it's always right."
Walters' primary reason for coming back to coach at Rifle was to be closer to his family. His time spent away from home, which included recruiting trips, home and away games and that long commute from Rifle to Grand Junction, took its toll over time. Walters and his wife, Christy, have two daughters, Taylor and Elly.
The end result of that mileage he put on his vehicle, however, is presenting itself in Mesa's success this season. The Mavs' 18-0 start was their best in school history, and three players are averaging double figures in scoring. Kelsey Sigl (17.1 points per game) is the team's leading scorer, and Katrina Selsor (14.4) and Sharaya Selsor (12.8), graduates of Glenwood Springs High School, are second and third.
Walters described his first season - when the school was still named Mesa State College - as "survival," since he was coaching with players who were left over from a team which had finished 6-21 overall. This season, first-year Mesa coach Taylor Wagner doesn't have that problem.
"My big thing when I got here was to have some credibility," Wagner said. "Then we were able to beat Simon Fraser and Montana State-Billings, which was ranked No. 18 in the country at the time [at a tournament in St. George, Utah] right off the bat. That showed a lot about what we have."
There was a three-pronged formula to what Walters and his coaching staff sought when they went out to get players: They have to be intelligent, hard working and talented. One of the things Walters said he was most proud of was his team's academic success, as the Mavericks went from having the lowest grade point average of any team on campus to having the school's highest GPA by the time he left.
"As long as everyone buys into that team concept, intelligence flows into everything else," Walters said.
Granted, Walters had an impressive high school coaching resume already when he came back to Rifle. He had a 94-59 record as the Bears' coach from 1995 to 2002. At Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale, the Rams went 115-17 and reached the 3A state championship game in 2005 and 2006.
This year's Rifle team is 9-8 overall and 6-6 in 4A Western Slope League play after Saturday night's 53-43 win, and the Bears host rival Glenwood Springs on Friday.
And even though he's missing the players he recruited to Mesa, there's plenty of other things he's glad he hasn't missed.
"I haven't missed a single one of my youngest daughter's games," Walters said. "As far as what those [Mesa] girls are doing, I'm absolutely thrilled for them. I'm just admiring from afar."