Rifle Bears, WSL right where they want to be

Jon Mitchell
From The Cheap Seats
Jon Mitchell
Staff Photo |

Rifle High School’s football team will start the 2013 season right where it left off in 2012.

The Bears were ranked No. 2 in the Class 3A preseason football poll released on Tuesday, earning a pair of first-place votes. The only team above them is — you guessed it — Silver Creek, the same team that beat Rifle in last season’s state championship game at Legacy Stadium in Aurora.

Granted, those rankings are likely based solely on last year’s results.

Or are they?

Glenwood Springs, which finished its second consecutive 5-5 campaign in 2012, got 17 votes from media members around Colorado to come within a single vote of breaking into the classification’s Top 10. Then there’s Palisade, which, under new/old head coach Joe Ramunno (who was rehired this year after 13 years at Mesa State/Colorado Mesa and a year as an assistant under John Arledge), got nine votes. Palisade was sandwiched in between Eagle Valley (12 votes) and Delta (eight).

Rifle got 63 votes, just ahead of No. 3 Elizabeth (61) and No. 4 Pueblo East (58). Rifle beat Pueblo East, 56-6, in last year’s 3A semifinals at Dutch Clark Stadium in Pueblo. Silver Creek beat Elizabeth in the other semifinal.

Just knowing that there are five Class 3A Western Slope League teams getting votes is a testament to how tough the league is and how much respect it’s beginning to garner. As Rifle coach Damon Wells said during the Bears’ two-a-day sessions last week, “there are no off weeks in this league.”

And no. I didn’t vote in this poll. I missed that bus this week.

In a way, this potentially does nothing but bode well for all the teams in the league. One of the things that determines playoff seeding is a team’s strength of schedule.

This obviously puts the proverbial target on the Bears’ backs again since they were the only team in the league to crack the Top 10. Rifle is used to that, though.

Twenty consecutive regular-season victories will do that kind of thing. Having a consistent offensive and defensive output shows the program’s consistency.

So, yeah. At first glance, it looks like the pollsters took last year’s postseason results and did a cut-and-paste job into this year’s preseason rankings. But after looking at what the Bears have accomplished in the past two years, this year’s preseason ranking is based more on merit than anything else.

Spreading respect around

Grand Valley High School’s football team had 17 votes in the 2A football poll. But unlike the 17 votes that were given to Glenwood Springs in Class 3A, the votes the Cardinals got were enough to rank them No. 9 in the 2A preseason poll.

Grand Valley has earned plenty of respect over the past decade, as last year’s postseason appearance was its fourth in six seasons. The only team that beat Grand Valley in the regular season last year was 2A WSL rival Bayfield, which is ranked No. 5 in the preseason poll.

Not to be outdone, the Coal Ridge boys soccer team is ranked No. 5 in the preseason Class 3A boys soccer poll. The only schools ranked ahead of them — No. 1 Colorado Academy, No. 2 Kent Denver, No. 3 Classical Academy and No. 4 Faith Christian — are all private schools.

For what that’s worth.

And to top it off, Rifle’s boys golf team got a vote in the Class 4A boys golf poll.

Suffice to say — warranted or not — these schools along the I-70 corridor have done at least enough to earn statewide recognition. That’s something worth noting.

Christian Laettner to visit Rifle

Yes. That Christian Laettner.

The one my mom loved to watch when he was at Duke. The one whose game-winning, turn-around jumper from the 1992 NCAA tournament’s East Regional Final against Kentucky is played over and over and over again come March Madness every year.

The one who went on to have a pretty successful career in the NBA, playing for six teams from 1992 to 2005.

Yeah. That guy.

Laettner is going to come to Rifle Oct. 24-26. According to new Rifle High girls basketball coach Kristy Wallner, he’ll be one of the main instructors in a camp that will be primarily a fundraiser for the Bears’ girls basketball program.

So far, he’s scheduled to hang with the team at Coulter Lake Guest Ranch north of Rifle on Oct. 24, will hold a team clinic the next day and, on Saturday, Oct. 25, will coach a mass clinic at Rifle High School with the help of the girls basketball team.

More info? Call Wallner, (970) 366-1633.

Countdown to kickoff

You probably couldn’t help but notice an extra little something that came with today’s paper.

It’s our football preview edition, titled “Football Rocks!” And yeah, we somehow managed to bring climbing gear, football pads and carabiners together for the photo shoot we did.

We had a lot of people help us put this thing together. Wane Edgeton at Rifle Parks & Recreation shored up some time for us at Rifle Mountain Park, and even helped us strap Coal Ridge’s Jerome Pizelli onto a rock with some climbing rope to get a pretty cool looking photo.

That said, I’m hoping there will be plenty of other fun things I come across as the school sports season goes on through May of 2014. Here’s to hoping this is only the start of them.

Jon Mitchell is the sports editor of the Citizen Telegram and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.

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