Rifle sports hoping to maintain level of excellence | PostIndependent.com

Rifle sports hoping to maintain level of excellence

Josh Carney
Post Independent

Graduation might not have hit a program in the county harder than it hit the Rifle Bears' girls basketball team. Gone are all-state guard Elly Walters, and sisters Katy and Karly Manuppella, as well as senior forward Peyton Caldwell. Joining those seniors in their departure from Rifle was veteran head coach Kristy Wallner, meaning Rifle has a new coach and a number of new faces to break in this winter.

Eric Caro comes over from Glenwood's middle school program to direct a Rifle program that's won back-to-back league championships and made a round of 16 run in the past two seasons in the 4A state playoffs.

While Caro won't have the talents of Walters, the Manuppella twins or Caldwell, he'll have the services of senior forward Masi Smith in the paint. It could be a trying year for the Bears though in Caro's first year, considering the talent that moved on due to graduation.

Boys basketball is hoping for a major bounceback after winning two games last winter under the guidance of first-year head coach Kyle Daniell. Fortunately for Daniell, he returns a number of key players from last season's group, giving him an experienced group that found its stride late last season but was unable to come out on top with wins down the stretch.

With two standout seniors in Joel Lopez and Omar Chavez, and an up-and-coming point guard in junior Trey Lujan, the arrow is pointing up for the Bears.

Wrestling also sees a number of athletes return, led by state championship competitors in juniors Couy Smith and Conrad Demann under veteran head coach John Wisnewski. Rifle is quite young this season under Wisnewski, but with two key upperclassmen with state experience, the Bears should be a tough team to match up against once again this winter.

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Wrestling

Head Coach: John Wisnewski, 19th season

Last Season: Sent four wrestlers to the state meet: Brian De La Rosa (152), Colt Rohrig (138), Couy Smith (126) and Conrad Demann (132)

Key Returners: Couy Smith, Jr. (132); Conrad Demann, Jr. (145); Talon Cordova, Jr. (138); Dillon Tiffany, Jr. (152)

Season Outlook: Rifle sees Couy Smith and Conrad Demann return this winter on the mat after making runs to the state meet last season. Despite having two key wrestlers return, the Bears are very young under Wisnewski. "We're made up of mostly juniors," Wisnewski said. "We have just two seniors returning. But we're expecting those guys [Smith and Demann] to be my upperclassmen and pick up the load and lead this program. The goal for this team this year heading in is to qualify as many guys on the team as possible. We want to place in the top 2-3 in the regional tournament and then do our best at the state meet. I think both Couy and Conrad have a really good shot at competing for the state title in their weight classes. They've been there before, and they know what is expected." Rifle opens the season on Dec. 1 at the Colorado Mesa University duals.

Boys Basketball

Head Coach: Kyle Daniell, second season

Last Season: 2-21 (1-11 4A WSL)

Key Returners: Joel Lopez, Sr.; Omar Chavez, Sr.; Trey Lujan, Jr.

Players to Watch: Darien Church, Sr.; Carter Pressler, Jr.; Garrett Robinson, Jr.; Christian Trevizo, Sr.; Tanner Cotner, Jr.; Alonso Ruiz, So.

Season Outlook: It was a tough first season in charge of a proud program for head coach Kyle Daniell, but the Bears started to turn things around late in the season, playing teams tough, getting back to Rifle's style of basketball down the stretch. The wins didn't come, but valuable experience was gained, which should help the Bears improve this season. "We're still not exactly sure what to expect," Daniell said. "I know I expect to have a group that will play with a chip on their shoulder and some fire in their belly. We took some lumps last year; it wasn't fun, but it is a needed part of the process. Last season's struggles fueled us this off-season, and we had a terrific off-season and summer. We look forward to it paying off." Rifle opens the season Tuesday, Dec. 4, at Aspen.

Girls Basketball

Head Coach: Eric Caro, first season

Last Season: 22-3 (11-1 4A Western Slope League champions), lost to Air Academy in the round of 16 in 4A state playoffs

Key Returners: Masi Smith, Sr.

Players to Watch: Taylor Davis, Jr.; Mackenzie Elizardo, So.; Jamie Caron, Fr.; April Quinones, Jr.

Season Outlook: Gone are four key starters and one of the best coaches on the Western Slope, after two straight league championships and a number of deep runs into the 4A state playoffs. It will be tough to replace players like Elly Walters, Katy and Karly Manuppella, and Peyton Caldwell, but Rifle returns standout forward Masi Smith and has a new head coach in Eric Caro at the helm of a strong program. It could be a trying year for the Bears, but that's not how Caro sees it. "If you asked any other coach in the league what they expected of us this year, they'd pick us at bottom of league," Caro said. "But we're competing for the league championship, and Masi should be competing for the league's Player of the Year award. Yes, the program lost a lot, but I saw some great things over the summer from younger players. We have a group that works so hard, so I'm really excited about what's to come." Rifle opens the season Friday against Coal Ridge at the Brenda Patch Tournament at Roaring Fork High School.