Familiarity breeds success for Bears
RIFLE – They’ve been together as teammates for six years, and the five juniors on Rifle’s softball team plan to stick together as long as they can.As a unit Kendall Babler, Megan McWilliams, Alissa Skinner, Chelsea Webb and Marissa Wilkins have become accustomed to wearing the same uniforms. It’s a relationship that’s produced winning records on the diamond.And, more importantly, the six-year association among the five players has forged a bond among them that goes beyond the playing field.”We basically have a sister relationship,” said McWilliams. “I think our relationship has expanded as we’ve matured and our relationships have grown. We know we’ll always be there for each other.”Four of them have known each other since second grade. Babler became part of the group a little later, after moving to Rifle from Parachute.After playing at the recreational level, the quintet came together athletically as 10-year-olds when Alissa’s mom, Cindy Skinner, also the head softball coach at RHS, formed a competitive team.
“I was looking to build a (youth) program, so I could feed the high school program,” the coach said. “At that time, these girls were ready to go to the next level. We were playing at the 12-and-under level softball in competitive-level tournaments, then in the recreation-level tournaments, we’d play in the 14-and-under bracket, so that we could steal bases, play with a 12-inch ball and all the regular rules. I’m just very fortunate to have such talented and skilled young ladies that wanted to play softball.”As each went through the bumps of athletic development and growing up, they learned they could rely on two constants – themselves and Skinner as their softball coach.”It’s nice because (Coach Skinner) knows our personalities, our weaknesses and our strengths,” Babler said. “She’ll put us where she needs us. And she knows we can depend on her and she can depend on us. It’s cool to have a close bond with our coach.”For Wilkins, a starting infielder, the relationship with Skinner “is like having a second Mom.”Because the girls and the coach know each other so well, they agree it makes it easier to communicate on the field.
“Playing together really helps because we know how each other plays and how we each play and we can depend on each other,” said Webb, the team’s catcher.Alissa Skinner, a starting pitcher and outfielder for Rifle, agreed with her batterymate.”I definitely think because we’ve been playing together so long that we can read each other,” she said. “There’s a lot of little things. Like Marissa being at second and Megan at first, if there’s a bunt going up the first-base line we know that Marissa’s going to be there for Megan if she gets the ball. We don’t even have to say anything because we’ve been playing together for so long that we just know.”The vibe between the players and their coach has propelled them to the regular-season league title last year as sophomores, and headed into Wednesday’s game the team was in a position to repeat as league champ this season.”First and foremost, it’s fun,” Cindy Skinner said of the longevity she’s had with the five players. “They are a great group of kids. They have lots of ability and they work hard at (the game). They truly do work hard to be the best they can be. That work ethic they have is fantastic. They’ve always been determined that way.”The camaraderie among them gives the coach ease that most high school coaches lack with their players.
There’s a comfort level there because we’ve known each other so long,” she said. “There’s also a very good respect because they know when I mean something.”While the coach and players know they have another year together when the high school season ends, they’re aware the relationship will end sooner than they expect. It will be hard because Megan, Chelsea, Marissa and myself have been together since we were in second grade,” Alissa Skinner said. “I think when we go away, we’ll keep in contact. It won’t be as much, but we’ll still have that bond. We won’t hang out and play sports together every day, but we’ll still care for each other and we’ll still be there.”Babler agrees.”The bond will always be there. We’ll always keep in touch. It’s not going to be the everyday thing. I think since we’ve grown up together and we’ve have had the bond for so long – It’s going to stay there no matter where we go.”
Rifle’s band of juniorsWhere they play nowKendall Babler, infieldMegan McWilliams, infield, outfield, pitcherAlissa Skinner, pitcher, outfieldChelsea Webb, catcherMarissa Wilkins, infield
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