Optimism reigns for Rifle High School winter teams | PostIndependent.com

Optimism reigns for Rifle High School winter teams

Jon Mitchell
Citizen Telegram Sports Editor
Rifle High School teammates Clayton Coombs, right, and Jose Prado take part in wrestling practice last week.
KELLEY COX/Citizen Telegram |

Reaching the postseason has been a staple for Rifle High School’s winter sports teams in recent years. Those expectations are no different this year.

Both of Rifle’s basketball teams return a strong nucleus of players from the playoff runs they made a season ago, leaving each team optimistic about the upcoming season. And even though Rifle’s wrestling team only returns two state qualifiers from a year ago, there’s plenty of reason to believe the Bears will improve on that this year. After all, Rifle is set at Class 4A this year and won’t have to make the transition from 3A like it did in the 2012-13 season.

“It’s going to be nice,” said Rifle coach John Wisniewski about not having to make that transition. “Our guys will have more of an opportunity to see great competition right from the start.”

Rifle’s boys hoops squad got a chance to see great competition at the end of last year, following a 3-8 start with a nine-game winning streak that led to a berth in the 4A state playoffs. And the Bears have all five starters back this season, each of whom will have much more time on the basketball court before the Bears’ season opener against Fruita-Monument in Grand Junction on Dec. 3.

“The great thing is that all five played a majority of the minutes last season,” longtime Rifle coach Roger Walters said. “There’s not going to be a whole lot of teaching, which will help because we’ll be able to pick up where we left off.”

Meanwhile, first-year Rifle girls coach Kristy Wallner takes over a team that came just one win away from reaching the Elite Eight of the Class 4A state tournament last season. But only one starter from that team — senior guard Chante Church — returns.

That doesn’t deter Wallner, though, who took the time to establish her system with her players during the summer. It’s a system the Bears have embraced.

“We’re learning Latin now,” Wallner said. “Latin is the base language for all languages, and we’re learning the base fundamentals of what’s going to make us a very solid basketball team.”

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