Blue-collar attitude alive with Bears

Jon Mitchell
Post Independent Sports Editor

RIFLE — Kristy Wallner has a sense of community in mind when it comes to her new job as head coach of the Rifle High School girls basketball team.

“I want this team to reflect the community and what it’s about,” said the 29-year-old Wallner, who was named the Bears’ new coach earlier this week. “We have a lot of hard-working, blue-collar people around our area, and we have the kind of players who will be able to reflect that as a basketball team.”

Wallner, who was the freshman girls basketball coach under Mike Johnson at Grand Valley for the past two seasons, will take on her first head coaching job. She replaces Rick Schmitz, who had coached girls basketball at Rifle and Coal Ridge for more than 30 years before his resignation this past spring.

Wallner, although her coaching experience is limited, has a lot of playing experience behind her.

The 5-foot-11 native of Bemidji, Minn., played four years of Division I women’s basketball at Xavier University in Cincinnati, ending her career in the 2005-06 season. She was a four-year starter, playing primarily in the backcourt through her junior season prior to becoming a post player exclusively as a senior. Each of the teams Wallner played on reached either the NCAA tournament or Women’s NIT, and she was named to the Atlantic 10 Conference all-rookie team as a freshman.

She was coached by Kevin McGuff, who since has moved on from Xavier and is the head women’s basketball coach at Ohio State. After college, Wallner went on to play two years of professional basketball for the 2Bundesliga Qtsv Dragons in Quakenback, Germany.

“I can really tell she’s going to be someone who is going to work hard,” Rifle athletic director Troy Phillips said. “She has a passion for teaching players and is bringing a lot of energy into the program. She doesn’t have a ton of coaching experience, but you’ve got to start somewhere. She definitely has a good background to get off to a good start.”

Wallner feels her experience playing multiple positions at Xavier will help her connect with players, especially if a player is moved to a position she isn’t used to. She also feels that with the Bears’ returners this season, Rifle could very easily move to a more up-tempo offense.

The main thing Wallner is focused on, however, is maintaining the success of the program while maintaining some stability in the head coaching position. Rifle went to the 4A and 3A state tournaments in three years under Stephanie Heald prior to last year’s playoff run under Schmitz.

“They’ve have three coaches in the past five years,” Wallner said. “They very well could be like, ‘Well, here we go again.’ I want to show them that’s not the case.”

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