Rifle Bears doing their best to maintain wrestling program’s success
RIFLE – Sustaining Rifle’s storied wrestling past is no pedestrian task, but that isn’t fazing this year’s group of Bear grapplers.Forget fazed. This Rifle team is clearly inspired by the program’s rich tradition. They want to carve out their own legacy.”We want to be better than last year,” said James Conrardy, who qualified for state as a sophomore last year. “We keep pushing to do the best we can. We’re sort of trying to beat last year.”Equaling or topping last season’s success – the Bears qualified eight to the 4A state meet, had a state champion in Tim Long and finished third at regionals – won’t be easy, but coach John Wiesnewski believes he has the team to pull it off.
“Every year, it seems, we get one guy coming in and winning state,” said the third-year Rifle head coach. “I think this year we’ve got a good shot at multiple state champs.”So far, so good, as the Bears have been finishing high at tournament after tournament. And Rifle churned out a big win at Saturday’s Eagle Valley Invitational.But it’s quite likely that bigger things are in the offing. The Bears have had at least one individual state titlist in each of the last three years, with Long’s title following back-to-back championships by Luke Wooten.With four of last season’s state qualifiers back – Conrardy, James Martinez, Brian Key and Abe Dennis – and loads of young talent, there’s no blaming Wiesnewski for dreaming big.”We’ve got a lot of young guys wrestling,” he said. “It’s nice to see a team like ours, guys where that’s all they want to do is wrestle.”
And some, like freshman Marcus Arroyo, want to stand atop the podium every season.”His goal is to be a four-time state champ,” Wiesnewski said. “With James (Conrardy), that’s his goal every year. I believe every year that’s the kids’ goal, to win state. Some start working hard in the room to get there. I’ve seen a lot of heartache, kids who worked so hard and came up a little short.”One thing Wiesnewski stresses is that if the state titles do come, it won’t be as a result of individual effort. On the surface, wrestling appears to be a solo sport of sorts, with the spotlight reserved solely for the man on the mat.Not the case.”Coach tells us every day that wrestling isn’t an individual sport,” junior Kiefer Deere said. “It’s a team sport. If you think it’s an individual sport, then don’t wrestle.”
Wiesnewski’s worked hard to create a family atmosphere, and it appears to be paying off. He says this season’s team is one of the closest teams he’s coached.”I think by far,” he said. “That’s something we’ve been working for, a close, family-like group. I believe everybody on the team realizes that everyone has their back out there, and they don’t want to let their teammates down. They start feeding off it.”For a lot of Bears, that family feel began at a young age in Rifle’s youth feeder programs.”Most of us have wrestled with each other since we were younger,” noted Conrardy, who’s wrestled since he was 6 years old. “With the exception of a few, we’ve all known each other for a long time. It helps a lot.”However they finish up the season, Rifle’s wrestlers will have done whatever possible to keep their program strong, and they will have done it as a team.”Our team’s always by the mat cheering each other on, giving the guy out on the mat the extra boost,” junior Dano Fugita said.Time will only tell how far that extra boost pushes the 2008 Bears.
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The 50th Carbondale Mountain Fair last weekend included the 42nd running of the Mt. Sopris Runoff 14-miler and its companion 4-Mile Fair Run foot races after a one-year hiatus due to the pandemic.