Year in Review: Rifle football team’s playoff run is best Western Garfield County sports story of 2014 |

Year in Review: Rifle football team’s playoff run is best Western Garfield County sports story of 2014

Jon Mitchell
Citizen Telegram Sports Editor
Rifle High School offensive lineman Austin Shepherd (63) blocks for Rifle running back Brock Clark (8) during the Bears' Class 3A quarterfinal game against Roosevelt in Johnstown on Nov. 13. Shepherd was a first-team
Jon Mitchell/Citizen Telegram |

At the time, Rifle High School’s football team was devastated immediately following its 30-14 loss to Pueblo East in the Class 3A state championship game on Nov. 29, 2014.

The Bears led the game at the beginning of the third quarter and were tied at the start of the fourth, then watched the Eagles quickly score 16 points in the final stanza and pull away for the victory.

Still, the run that the Bears made through the regular season and the Class 3A state football playoffs captivated the attention of not only Rifle football fans, but of sports fans all around Garfield County. Because of that, the Bears’ run to the title game at Dutch Clark Stadium in Pueblo has been named the top sports story of 2014 by staffers who help put together the Citizen Telegram.

Granted, there were plenty of things to choose from as far as good stories. They varied from Rifle football to the playoff runs made by the volleyball and girls soccer teams at Grand Valley High, the new grandstand project at Cooper Field baseball field inside Deerfield Park and the state-tournament runs by the wrestling teams at Grand Valley and Rifle.

Still, Rifle’s postseason run generated the most interest among people in the community, and leads off our list of top sports stories for the year.

As follows:

• Rifle High School football

The Bears, who played in front of standing-room only crowds for nearly all off their home games at Bears Stadium this season, had another successful season. They posted a 12-2 overall record this season, won the Class 3A Western Slope League title for the fourth consecutive season, and improved their overall record over the past four years to 44-7.

“It’s nice to be at a place where it’s a big deal when you lose a game,” Rifle coach Damon Wells said following the Bears’ 18-10 loss to Palisade back in October.

To top it off, the Bears earned plenty of postseason awards. Thirteen players earned all-league recognition, and three seniors — linebacker/offensive lineman Austin Shepherd, running back/linebacker Brock Clark and linebacker/offensive lineman Alex Gould — were first-team award winners on the Colorado High School Activities Association’s Class 3A all-state team. Shepherd earned his second first-team award.

Rifle High grad wrestles to fifth-place finish in Division II nationals

Colorado Mesa wrestler James Martinez, a graduate of Rifle High School, finished in fifth place in the 149-pound weight class of the NCAA Division II National Championships in Cleveland on March 15.

Martinez won his first match of the day by defeating Jeremy Landowski of Mercyhurst, 4-3. Martinez, however, fell to Terrel Wilbourn of Lindenwood, 5-2, when he wrestled for a title-match berth to move into the third-place match. It was the highest finish of Martinez’s college wrestling career. He’s now competing for Mesa in his senior year.

Amelia Zemlock battles bone cancer

Residents in Rifle and the surrounding areas came together to assist in the treatment of bone cancer for Amelia Zemlock, a Rifle High student and volleyball player who has battled bone cancer in her right knee for a majority of the calendar year. She’s had multiple setbacks during her treatment, but the overall prognosis through the process has been positive.

The support of the community has, however, astounded her family. This past summer, Rifle played in an alumni football game against Palisade that not only drew a full-house crowd at Bears Stadium, but served as a fund-raiser to pay for the family’s medical bills. In all, tens of thousands have been raised to contribute to Amelia’s treatment, which is ongoing.

CJ Vondette wins barrel-racing title

Rifle High school graduate CJ Vondette had a banner year on the Mountain States Circuit thanks to a horse that, at one point, looked like it would never compete again. Still, the 24-year-old and 2008 graduate of RHS managed to win the circuit championship in October on “Grizz,” an 18-year-old gelding who suffered a severe cut on his right gasket muscle that left a five-inch deep incision. After a two-month long recovery period, however, Vondette was back on Grizz and won the circuit finals in Rock Springs, Wyoming. The win not only earned Vondette her first championship, but it also earned Grizz the circuit’s award for the “Horse with the Most Heart.”

Grand Valley High girls soccer

The Cardinals posted a lot of firsts during their 2014 season. They netted a school-record 13-game winning streak on their way to a second-consecutive trip to the Class 3A state playoffs. And by doing that, Grand Valley posted its second consecutive season of 13 or more wins, marking resounding success for a program that, just two years prior, had never had a winning season.

The other first came in the form of the Cardinals’ top player Ashlynn Speakman. Her 33 goals scored in 16 games tied her with Emily Loof of St. Mary’s (Colorado Springs) as the top goal scorer in Colorado among all classifications.

Cooper Field

A project was started this past spring to improve the facilities at Cooper Field, which is the primary baseball field at Deerfield Park in north Rifle. The $1.3 million project, which was funded by federal grants and money from Garfield School District Re-2, will provide a 600-seat grandstand behind the longstanding baseball field. It will also include a concession stand, a press box and restrooms, providing the complex an extra amenities that could bring out-of-town visitors to town through youth and high school baseball tournaments.

State wrestling

Rifle and Grand Valley each had a pair of placers in the 4A and 3A State Championships in Denver this past February. For Rifle, junior heavyweight Jose Prado managed a fifth-place finish in his weight class. One Rifle senior, Dallas Rohrig, was on the verge of wrestling for a state championship before finishing fourth at 132 pounds. For Grand Valley, the Cardinals got a surprise placer in Will Hinkle, a senior at the time who finished in fourth place at 160 pounds. Bryan Hegwood, at 182 pounds, managed a sixth-place finish in his weight class.

Honorable mentions:

• Grand Valley junior guard Sam Parker finishes the high school basketball season as Class 3A’s leading scorer, averaging 21.5 points per game.

• Mike Johnson steps down as Grand Valley’s football coach and girls basketball coach following 16 years serving as the head coach of both teams, 14 of which came as the head coach. The Cardinals’ deep playoff runs included a berth in the Class 2A girls hoops state title game in 2007 and three consecutive state playoff appearances in football from 2007 to 2009.

• Rifle High School’s boys basketball team won the Class 4A Western Slope League championship, clinching the title with a 58-42 victory over Glenwood Springs. It was the first league championship for the Bears since 2003.

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