Carney Column: Start of fall sports brings excitement, hope for local teams

Josh Carney

Today marks the official start of fall sports for the 2018-19 school year, according to Colorado High School Activities Association’s guidelines, and with that brings a lot of anticipation, excitement and hope for a healthy year across seven different sports here on the Western Slope.

For some, this is the last chance to beat that rival, win that league championship or push for goals set prior to the season. For others, it’s the start of a long high school career with aspirations that are sky high.

For me, it brings a busy season with a lot ahead, in terms of stories to write, games to attend and report on, and new faces to get to know. That’s what makes this job fun: the start of a new sports season.

Growing up, the end of summer meant the start of football season, both from a playing standpoint, and as a fan. As I donned the pads each summer preparing for the season ahead, I knew that college football and the National Football League was right there alongside me, getting set for their respective seasons. That excited me, because it let me wonder what my favorite teams could do that upcoming season because everyone was on an even playing surface, sitting at 0-0 with a whole season ahead. Anything was possible.

Now I still have that same feeling, albeit in a different capacity. August 6 marks the start of my busy season, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Gone are the long, slow days of summer with no high school sports to cover. Some can see fall, winter and spring sports as a tough workload for one person to attempt to cover consistently by himself, but it comes with the territory.

This year, the boys of fall bring a renewed interest, as the Rifle Bears drop down to the 2A Western Slope League after a number of years competing at the 3A level. The Bears will get to play Coal Ridge, Grand Valley and Basalt on a consistent basis moving forward in league games, making the valley’s Friday night games that much more important, as four of the six teams in my coverage area play in the same league.

Rifle will still play Glenwood Springs in its annual rivalry, but this game will be for bragging rights only for the next two years, as Glenwood remains in the 3A Western Slope League.

Speaking of Glenwood’s football team, the Demons are breaking in a new coach this fall for the first time in 14 years, as Pat Engle takes over for Hall of Famer Rocky Whitworth, while the Coal Ridge Titans are on their third coach in three years as Paul Downing steps in for Bob Frederickson. The Titans had their best season in seven years, going 5-4 last season. Both Engle and Downing take over talented teams, so expect the Demons and Titans to remain competitive this fall under the bright lights.

The one big difference this fall is that the Roaring Fork Rams won’t be playing varsity-level games for the next two years under head coach Dave Close, as the Rams are attempting to rebuild their proud football program back up from the ground floor.

Outside of football, boys soccer and girls volleyball should be must-watch events once again, as the Glenwood Springs Demons, Coal Ridge Titans and Roaring Fork Rams have state-championship aspirations in boys soccer, while the Titans and Demons hope to make it back to the state tournaments in girls volleyball once again. Roaring Fork and Rifle are set to break in two new volleyball coaches in Karen Crownhart (RF) and Caitlin Brady (Rifle) as well.

Arguably the marquee sport in the valley, cross country is set for another star-studded fall, as Glenwood has one of the top boys and girls teams on the Western Slope, let alone the state of Colorado, while Rifle, Coal Ridge and Grand Valley should have lucrative seasons as well. Don’t be surprised if a league champion or two comes from one of those teams this fall, as well as a top runner or two in the state once October hits.

Finally, boys golf quietly saw a number of athletes make the state tournament last season. That trend upward should continue again, as Basalt, Coal Ridge and Rifle will compete for a league championship this fall on local courses.

Overall, the hope for athletes is high, as young men and women hope to remain healthy, compete at the highest level possible, and make their schools proud this fall. For me, I’m expecting to provide the best coverage possible to you, the reader, this fall. These athletes deserve the very best coverage possible, and I’m thrilled to get the opportunity to tell their stories for the fourth year in a row.

Let’s get started!

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