Rifle athletics hopes for resurgent fall season
Outside of softball making a run to the state playoffs last fall, Rifle High School fall athletics had a very trying season in 2016.
Fortunately for Rifle, three experienced coaches return this fall, while three new head coaches take over programs looking to get back on track, not just for this season, but for the foreseeable future as well.
Softball head coach Troy Phillips is back for another season at the helm of the Bears’ program, while seven key starters from last season return for the 2017 campaign. Last season, the Bears rolled to a 4A Western Slope League championship after going 7-1 in the league with Palisade and Eagle Valley. Following the league title, Rifle was knocked out of the regional tournament with two straight losses to Thomas Jefferson and Pueblo Centennial, but the majority of last season’s team returns, highlighted by the talented battery of pitcher Kaitlyn Jackson and catcher Peyton Caldwell, as does roughly half the infield. The amount of talent returning should have the Bears right back on top of the league and in the middle of things when it comes to the 4A state playoffs.
Boys soccer and girls volleyball sees head coaches David Romero and Kirsten Noska return for another season in charge of the respective programs, which should give the players in both programs familiarity to work with. The 2016 season was a trying season for both programs, but better days are ahead for the two teams, who should be able to pick up league wins this season.
In golf, plenty of high-end talent is available for first-year head coach Tod Smith, starting with his son Jacob, as well as Wolfgang Smith and Connor Wall, so Rifle golf should see at least one boy qualify for the state tournament.
Cross country will see two top runners return for co-head coaches Laura Alfini and Kyle Mickelson, as well as two talented freshmen come up from the middle school ranks.
A good amount of talent returns for each program, while some coaching familiarity should help the athletes for Rifle this fall. Following a trying 2016 season, Rifle fall athletics should be able to bounce back in a positive way this fall.
Head Coach: Troy Phillips
Last Season: 14-7 (7-1 4A Western Slope League champions), lost to Thomas Jefferson and Pueblo Centennial in the state regional tournament
Key Returners: Kaitlyn Jackson, Jr., P; Peyton Caldwell, Sr., C; Kaitlyn Harris, Jr., SS; Shaeley Arneson, Sr., 3B; Amanda Green, Jr., OF; Claudia Abbott, Sr., OF; Delaney Phillips, So., 2B
Players to Watch: Hannah Bodrogi, So., INF
Season Outlook: With seven key returners from a state tournament team, Rifle has the deepest team in the 4A Western Slope League and should have its sites set on another league championship. But for Rifle, what will matter most this year is the performance in the state playoffs, where the Bears will look to get past the regional tournament this fall after coming up short in 2016. With a star pitcher on the mound in Kaitlyn Jackson, an all-conference caliber catcher in Peyton Caldwell and a deep infield and lineup highlighted by Shaeley Arneson, Amanda Green, Kaitlyn Harris and Delaney Phillips, the Bears should be a team to watch in the valley this fall. “We have pretty high internal expectations with this group,” Head Coach Troy Phillips said. “Everything this season will depend on how we come together as a team. If we can get these girls to buy into each other as a team and play as a team, we’ll have a successful season.”
Head Coach: Kirsten Noska, third year
Last Season: 6-17 (0-12 4A Western Slope League)
Key Returners: Dolce Tuscano, Sr., L; Eve Miller, Sr., OH; Shalynn Smith, Sr., OH
Players to Watch: Rose Mastrud, Jr., MH; Jessie Pressler, Sr., MH
Season Outlook: League play in 2016 wasn’t kind to the Bears, as an 0-12 mark really dampened the mood surrounding a team that got off to a good start last fall under head coach Kirsten Noska. Despite a difficult close to the 2016 season, off-season workouts under Noska have been intense, according to the coach, with perfection being demanded for a program looking to make a substantial improvement in year three under Noska and her staff. “The buildup to this year has been unlike any other,” Noska said. “Practices are intense, and we have a demand for perfection. We’re looking to run a faster offense to make us harder to defend. We have a decent amount of seniors back despite graduating eight from last year, so this current group of girls have been playing together for a long time. They’re excited and working hard and ready to get onto the court.”
Head Coach: Tod Smith, first year
Last Season: Jacob Smith qualified for state tournament
Key Returners: Jacob Smith; Wolfgang Smith
Golfers to Watch: Connor Wall; Tegan Costanzo; Alex Stroud
Season Outlook: Jacob Smith and Wolfgang Smith form a terrific 1-2 punch for first-year head coach Tod Smith to work with in Rifle, but the depth guys like Connor Wall, Tegan Costanzo and Alex Stroud could really put this group in a great position to qualify for the state tournament if the young trio improves quickly under the guidance of Smith. Jacob Smith might be one of the top golfers on this side of the Rockies, so the junior should be able to represent Rifle at the state meet once again.
Head Coach: David Romero, second year
Last Season: 0-13-2 (0-12-1 4A Western Slope League)
Key Returners: Oscar Crispin, Sr.; Caleb Opstein, Sr.; Alexis Jimenez, So.; Andres Guerrero, So.; Paul Cerros, So.
Players to Watch: Manuel Marni, Fr.; Cesar Guttierez, Sr.
Season Outlook: Last season was rock bottom for the Rifle Bears’ soccer program as the group was held winless under first-year head coach David Romero. However, year two should be much better for the Bears as Romero returns for a second year, while key players like Oscar Crispin and Caleb Opstein return, while Alexis Jimenez, Andres Guerrero and Paul Cerros are a year older and have varsity experience under their belts. Add in freshman Manuel Marni and it’s clear Rifle has a good talent pool to work with this fall. With a deep group to work with, Rifle should get back in the win column a couple of times this fall.
Co-Head Coaches: Kyle Mickelson and Laura Alfini, third year
Last Season: Sarah Wagler and Ashley Manera qualified for the state meet. Wagler placed 26th; Manera placed 91st.
Key Returners: Sarah Wagler, Sr.; Ashley Manera, Jr.; Nick Heil, So.
Runners to Watch: Karisa Coombs, Fr.; Jonny Hernandez, Fr.
Season Outlook: With two state meet runners back for another fall, and two impressive freshmen joining the ranks, Rifle has a really talented corps to work with this fall. Both Karisa Coombs and Jonny Hernandez set Rifle Middle School records in the mile run last year, and both are exceptional distance runners, so Mickelson and Alfini are getting two great young talents to work with for the foreseeable future. But this fall, focus will be centered on Sarah Wagler and Ashley Manera following their state meet performances last fall. Wagler is one of the top distance runners in the valley, while Manera really impressed last fall. With roughly 27 kids out for the cross country team, Rifle will have its deepest team in years.