Young Bears bound for state despite slow start |

Young Bears bound for state despite slow start

Jeff Caspersen
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Jeff Caspersen Post IndependentRifle senior right fielder Shantel Leyba tracks down a fly ball during a game in Parachute last month. Leyba and the Bears are headed to this weekend's 3A state softball tournament in Aurora.

RIFLE, Colorado – Early on in the softball season, Rifle shortstop Emma Speer wasn’t overly optimistic about her team’s prospects.

“I didn’t think we were that good at the beginning,” she said.

Six straight losses to open the season – a stretch during which the Bears were outscored, 80-12 – validated the freshman’s assessment.

Much has changed since that skid.

With her team now 8-11 and bound for the 16-team Class 3A state tournament in Aurora, Speer has since revised her opinion.

The young Bears, who are sending seven freshmen to Aurora, are on quite the late-season roll. They’ve won eight of their last 13, including an 11-6 victory over Gunnison in Saturday’s 3A District 5 semifinal that qualified Rifle for state.

“We have a really young team,” senior right fielder Shantel Leyba said. “At the beginning, I didn’t think there was a chance we’d get [to state].”

It just took some time for the team’s youth to round into form.

“I think we’ve just listened to our coach and worked hard in practice,” said senior Cortney Cordova, the team’s second baseman.

“We’ve all been really coachable,” Leyba chimed in. “We’ve come together as a team because we listen to what our coaches say.”

With a team light on varsity experience, coaching has been a necessity.

Rifle lost a handful of seniors to graduation from last season’s team. Further, a handful of would-be seniors moved away, including standout pitcher Alisha Rodebaugh and catcher Dannan Dueitt.

That left the coaching staff and four seniors – Leyba, Cordova, Chanler May and Vanessa Herrera – to guide a brigade of youngsters.

A staff led by the likes of head coach Cindy Skinner and assistant Troy Phillips has done more than just help the Bears hone their fundamentals.

“They’re never hanging their heads,” said May, a Meeker High School student who commutes roughly 80 miles a day to play left field for Rifle. “We kind of did a little bit, but they were always there to say, ‘This is what we need to work on.’ We’ve always been pretty coachable and they never really dropped their heads. They were just always there, supporting us.”

And those coaches are supporting a receptive bunch.

“I’m very proud of their accomplishments and the hard work these girls have put into this season to get where they’re at,” Skinner said. “You don’t always get a group that’ll listen to what you have to say and do it.”

The 16th-seeded Bears will look to apply all their coaches have passed along in their state tournament opener on Friday. Rifle will be pitted against top-seeded Berthoud (17-4) in the first round at 10 a.m. on Friday.

Second-round games start at 2:30 p.m. The semifinals and state title game are scheduled for Saturday.

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