Fall preview: Uncertainty, excitement define Rifle’s fall sports season | PostIndependent.com

Fall preview: Uncertainty, excitement define Rifle’s fall sports season

Ryan Hoffman
rhoffman@citizentelegram.com
Senior Juan Carlos Gutierrez receives a pass during a drill at practice Monday. Gutierrez is one of five returning varsity players the Bears will rely on in the 2015 season.
Ryan Hoffman | Citizen Telegram

Rifle High School fall sports preview

Cross Country

Head coaches: Lisa Scrabeck and Laura Alfini (First season as co-head coaches; fourth for both with the team).

Last Season: Graduate Brendan Wagler finished 14th in the state meet.

Key returners: Boys — Jack Rubalcaba; Jr. Girls — Sarah Wagler, Soph.

Others to watch: Boys — Gabe Marbas, Jr; Luis Carreon, Jr. Girls — Carley Rice, Jr.; Kenia Chavez, Jr.; Lauren Arnold, Jr.; and Ashley Manera, Fr.

Outlook: For the first time in years, the Bears have enough athletes to field both a boys and a girls cross country team, a feat partially credited to outreach work by the coaching staff. The cross country team even managed to attract athletes from other sports including Carreon from the soccer team and Rice from the volleyball team. Part of the messaging implemented by the entire coaching staff is that “running is for everyone,” Scrabeck said. “It’s OK to switch sports.” With a larger turnout this year, the emphasis has been on team building. While cross country may be traditionally thought of as an individual sport, the coaching staff has worked on making the team more of community. Sending individual runners to compete at state is always a fantastic feat, but given the choice, Scrabeck said she would like to see the team advance to the next level, as oppose one or several individuals.

Soccer

Head coach: Rich Carter (Fifth season).

Last Season: 5-10 overall, 3-5 in league

Key returners: Alexis Ramos, Jr.; Caleb Opstein, Soph.; Eduardo Ruiz Magana, Sr.; Elijah Haywood, Sr.; Juan Carlos Gutierrez, Sr.; Oscar Crispin, Soph.

Others to watch: Alex Lopez, Fr.; Jose Quinones, Jr.

Outlook: There are a lot of unknowns to start the Bear’s season. For the first time in recent memory, Rifle will not field a junior varsity team due to the shrinking number of players who tried out — which Carter said could be attributed to several different factors. Other teams, he said, have reported fewer players this year, possibly indicating a cyclical lull in the region. Regardless, with some players taking the field at the varsity level who might otherwise be playing JV, all the players — from the underclassmen to the seniors — are going to have to step it up, Carter said.

Softball

Head coach: Troy Phillips (First season head coach, assistant coach for 19 years prior).

Last Season: 1-17 overall, 0-6 in league

Key returners: Payton Phillips, Sr.; Mackyla Parsons, Sr.

Others to watch: Claudia Abbott, Soph.; Peyton Caldwell, Soph.; Alexys Holder, Jr.; Sydney Scarrow, Soph.

Outlook: This year’s team is young — very young. With 26 underclass athletes at tryouts, and four freshmen likely finding a spot on the varsity squad, the team has some growing to do, said Phillips, who takes over as head coach after nearly two decades as an assistant. However, the overall interest is encouraging. “We had more girls come out than ever before,” the head coach said. Despite being young, the players have shown dedication in practices, which is promising for the season. While there are still uncertainties surrounding who will play in some of the positions, Phillips said he sees the team starting to mesh once the season gets under way and things settle down. That will happen sooner rather than later, with the season opener at Basalt High School scheduled for Thursday.

Volleyball

Head coach: Kirsten Noska (First season).

Last Season: 4-19 overall

Key returners: K’san Brueckmann, Sr.; Bryce Ettles, Jr.; Reese Hoffmeister, Sr.; Tara Ruggles, Jr.

Others to watch: Jordan Dorr, Sr.; Megan Doll, Sr.; Fabi Lopez, Jr.; Kianna Miller, Jr.; Mackenzie Ventrello, Jr.; Sydney Wells, Jr.; Dani Whaley, Jr.

Outlook: So far, the emphasis has been on developing individual skills, said Noska, whose first year as head coach is her first job out of college. While Noska has had to adapt to the new location and new job, several returning varsity players have emerged as leaders, including Brueckmann, Ettles, Hoffmeister and Ventrello, she said. They will be crucial players this season as Noska starts to build the program, which she said looks promising given the young developing talent at the junior varsity level. Although this season could be classified a rebuilding year, the bar is still high, she said. “The expectations are still high and they need high expectations,” Noska said. “If I have low expectation of them because of their past record they’re not going to get any better, and the program is not going to get any better.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Post Independent this week will preview fall sports at Garfield County’s high schools — Glenwood Springs Monday, Rifle today, Roaring Fork on Wednesday, Coal Ridge Thursday and Grand Valley Friday. Friday also features our annual football preview section.

RIFLE — Facing turnover in head coaching positions, as well as roster positions, this fall holds plenty of unknowns for some of Rifle High School’s athletic teams. However, that uncertainty is not dampening the excitement and eagerness to get things under way.

“It’s really tough to tell,” said boys’ head soccer coach Rich Carter. “I think there’s going to be some surprises, but you never know what’s going to happen.”

First the first time that Carter can remember, the soccer program had too few players try out to field a junior varsity team. While Carter has several theories for the phenomenon — several other coaches in the area, he said, reported decreased numbers — the fact is the Bears will have to field some younger players who might otherwise be playing at the junior varsity level. With this being the last year the team will play at in the 3A Western Slope League before moving back up to 4A, some of the players are going to have to “suck it up” if the Bears hope to build on an overall 5-10 record last season.

The boy’s soccer team is not the only athletic team at Rifle fielding a young team this fall. The softball team had 26 freshmen and sophomores try out this year — well over half the 40 total students who tried out, according to head coach Troy Phillips. Four of those freshmen are likely to make the starting squad.

Consequently, some of the positions are still undetermined, although some of the younger athletes have show some real promise, Phillips said. And despite the team’s overall youth, the girls have charged into practice, demonstrating a dedication to hard work.

“Give us a month and I think the team will start to gel,” he added.

Coming off a one-win season last year, the team will not face a daunting amount of pressure as it works to establish that chemistry. While this is Phillips’ first year as head coach, he is not new to the program, having served as an assistant coach for nearly the past two decades.

That’s a far different scenario than the one facing the volleyball team and first-year head coach, Kirsten Noska.

Noska, who took the coaching gig and a teaching position after graduating this past spring from Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D., has the advantage of having one of the more senior teams at Rifle High this fall. Several returning varsity players have emerged as leaders in practices, which will aid the team as Noska works to build the program, which finished with an overall record of 4-19 last fall.

While acknowledging last year’s record, Noska said that does not mean the expectations have been lowered.

“The expectations are still high, and they need high expectations,” she said. “If I have low expectation of them because of their past record they’re not going to get any better, and the program is not going to get any better.”

As far as excitement, few teams might be as eager as the cross country team, which will field both a girl’s and boy’s team this season. More runners have come out this year than in recent memory, said Lisa Scrabeck, who will serve as co-head coach along with Laura Alfini — both of whom have been with the program for the past four years.

The coaching staff has worked hard to spread the simple message that “running is for everyone,” Scrabeck said. “It’s OK to switch sports.”

Much of the emphasis so far has been on team building, despite traditional beliefs that cross country is an individual sport.

“Overall, our emphasis would be ‘Hey, look at this community and this team that’s being built at Rifle High School,’” Scrabeck said.

While the roster and coaching shake-up for some of Rifle’s teams could categorize this season as a year to rebuild the program, the future looks promising for several programs, including the softball and volleyball teams. For those teams, this season will be both a test of mental toughness and maturity, but the coaches are up for the challenge.

“This is my passion,” Noska said, “and every day I’m here I know it’s what I’m supposed to be doing.”


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