New faces set to make impact for Bears
Behind a senior-heavy team last season, the Rifle Bears rolled into the state playoffs before coming up short against Evergreen in the first round of the 4A state playoffs. Now, heading into the 2016-17 season, Rifle has its work cut out under Head Coach Roger Walters as the Bears have just two returning seniors in forward Jacob Boone and guard Blaine Vance, who will be out until January with an injury suffered during football season.
On top of the loss of Vance to start the season, the Bears will be short three other players for the first four games of the season due to a team-issued punishment, forcing Walters to play kids with limited varsity experience and a short bench to kick things off this winter.
“We’re going to try and survive until January,” Walters, one of the best coaches in Western Slope history, said. “In the long run, facing this adversity and working through it will be good for us as a team because we’ll be much deeper across the board.”
With Boone back as the focal point of the offense in the post (15.1 points per game, 6.6 rebounds per game), the Bears will be able to rely heavily on the 6’6” forward early in the season as the young players adjust to the rigors of high school basketball in 4A. Along with Boone, 6’4” sophomore forward Carter Sturgen will play a big part early for the Bears, who have two of the tallest players in the front court in the valley outside of Basalt.
Despite the tough hand dealt to Walters and the Bears to start the season, it would be remiss to just overlook the Bears this season, especially with who the coach is. There’s no doubt — at least from the coaching staff — that this team could struggle early with the injury to Vance and the team-issued discipline to three others, but if the Bears are able to survive the early part of season and get into January relatively healthy for the start of league play, this Rifle group could once again challenge for the 4A Western Slope League crown.
“We had a pretty good summer with this group in tact,” Walters said. “We’re a finesse group right now, so we need to get a little more blue collar to become a tougher team.”
The Bears will tip off the 2016-17 season on Friday in Carbondale at the Brenda Patch Tournament against Ponderosa at 4:30 p.m.
Head Coach: Roger Walters, fifth season
Last Season: 19-5, 12-2 4A WSL, won league title, lost to Evergreen in first round of 4A state playoffs
Key Players: Jacob Boone, Sr., F; Blaine Vance, Sr., G; Carter Sturgeon, So., F
Players to watch: Jacob Seeman, Jr., G; Blake Swasey, Jr., F; Evan Gray, Jr., C
Unlike the Rifle boys, the Rifle girls team returns three of its best players this winter, led by junior first team all-conference guard Elly Walters, first team all-conference forward Samantha Hinkle and all-conference honorable mention guard Jessie Pressler. The trio combined for 32 points per game last season, leading the Bears to a 17-7 record and an appearance in the state playoffs against Evergreen.
With the trio returning in tact this winter with another full year of experience and playing time together, expectations are high for this version of the Lady Bears under Head Coach Kristy Wallner. Those expectations start with topping Palisade for the 4A Western Slope League title this winter after falling short by just two games last season to the Bulldogs.
Behind an inside-outside combination of Walters and Hinkle and the deadly sharpshooting of Pressler from beyond the arc, the Bears have a great opportunity to conquer Palisade to win the league, guaranteeing a spot in the state playoffs once again under Wallner.
Head Coach: Kristy Wallner, fourth season
Last Season: 17-7, 12-2 4A WSL, lost to Evergreen in first round of 4A state playoffs
Key Players: Elly Walters, Jr., G; Samantha Hinkle, Sr., F; Jessie Pressler, Jr., G
Players to watch: Kenia Chavez, Sr., F; Carley Rice, Sr., F; Mackenzie Ventrello, Sr., F; Peyton Caldwell, Jr., F
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