Preview: The arrow is pointing up for Rifle High School fall athletics in 2018 | AspenTimes.com

Preview: The arrow is pointing up for Rifle High School fall athletics in 2018

Josh Carney
Glenwood Springs Post Independent

Outside of softball making a run to the state playoffs last fall, and boys golf seeing Jacob Smith place fourth in the state, Rifle High School fall athletics had an up and down 2017 season.

However, things are looking up for the Rifle Bears this fall, as the boys soccer program took a massive step forward in the 2017 season under head coach David Romero, while cross country has a star on its hands in sophomore Jonny Hernandez. Volleyball breaks in a new coach in Caitlin Brady this fall, while softball sees six starters return from last season's state tournament team.

The 2018 season just might be the year Rifle sees a major resurgence in fall sports, thanks to the talent returning, and the coaches in place across the board.

Softball

Head Coach: Troy Phillips, seventh year

Last Season: 15-6 (7-1 4A Western Slope League) lost to Ponderosa and Pueblo East (in 4A softball regionals

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Key Returners: Kaitlyn Jackson, Sr., P; Kaitlyn Harris, Sr., C; Delaney Phillips, Jr., 2B; Shaeley Arneson, Sr., 3B; Amanda Green, Sr., SS/OF; Hannah Bodrogi, Jr., OF

Players to Watch: Zoey Loya, Jr., 1B/C; Abigail Bonuales, So., UT

Season Outlook: Coming off of yet another state tournament berth under the guidance of head coach Troy Phillips, this year's Rifle softball team has the makings of a historic one, at least in Phillips' eyes.

"I feel like this group has a chance to break the school record for wins in softball," Phillips said. "Part of that is we have a 23-game schedule instead of a 19-game schedule, but I really feel we should be as good as we were a year ago. We won't be as deep, but our eight top players are really good."

Volleyball

Head Coach: Caitlin Brady, first year

Last Season: 4-18 (1-11 4A Western Slope League)

Key Returners: Kyla Gray, Sr., OH; Rose Mastrud, Sr., OH; Nikala Fitzsimmons, Sr., S;

Players to Watch: Maddy Valencia, So., OH; Maddie Wolf, Sr., OH; Makenzie Elizardo, So., MH;

Season Outlook: Caitlin Brady takes over a program that picked up three wins last season. She's not coming into a new program though, as Brady has a lot of experience with this current group, having served as the C team head coach the last few years with Rifle. By having already established a relationship with the girls in years, Brady comes in expecting big things for the Bears.

"I have pretty high expectations for this group," Brady said. "What we've been doing this summer and competing in summer tournaments, switching our offenses around has been big. Coming from the bottom of the pack in the league, we're expecting high results."

Cross Country

Head Coach: Kyle Mickelson, fourth year; Kirsten Noska, first year

Last Season: Jonny Hernandez and Sarah Wagler qualified for the state meet

Key Returners: Jonny Hernandez, So.; Ashley Manera, Sr.; Nick Heil, Jr.;

Runners to Watch: Tyler Piece, So.; Karisa Coombs, So.; Patrick Whitt, Fr.; Adrian Valerio, Fr.

Season Outlook: With Hernandez returning to lead the Bears, Rifle has a standout cross country runner on its hands – one who could be one of the top runners in the state when his time in high school is all said and done. Along with Hernandez, Ashley Manera returns with state meet experience, having qualified in 2016. It's not a deep group, but there's plenty of young talent up and coming for the Bears under Mickelson and Noska.

"We're very excited to see how Jonny will do in his second year coming off of an amazing summer," Mickelson said. "Ashley is an outstanding leader, too, who spent her summer in Tanzania. Other runners like Nick Heil, Tyler Piece, Karisa Coombs, and Patrick Whitt have all put in their fair share of work this summer with conditioning. We're a very young group, so we'll be gaining a lot of experience this year."

Boys Golf

Head Coach: Tod Smith, second year

Last Season: Jacob Smith finished fourth in 4A state, Wolfgang Smith qualified for state

Key Returners: Wolfgang Smith, Jr.; Cannon Wall, So.

Golfers to Watch: Kaleb Pressler, Fr.; Broc Caldwell, Fr.; Jackson Davis, Jr.; Alex Stroud, Jr.; Aiden Diaz, So.

Season Outlook: Gone is all-state golfer Jacob Smith, but the Bears have a ton of talent back this fall for head coach Tod Smith.

"This is the first time in years we have this number of good players here at Rifle," Smith said. "We're expecting — particularly with the younger players — that if our freshmen can gain some good experience, we should compete and go to state as a team. That's our goal. We're not quite on par with Montrose, but the other teams in the league we feel we can compete very favorably with the rest of the teams in the league."

Boys Soccer

Head Coach: David Romero, third year

Last Season: 5-10 (4-8 4A Western Slope League)

Key Returners: Andres Guerrero, Jr.; Paul Cerros, Jr.; Luis Molina, So.; Diego Suarez, Sr.; Alexis Lopez, Jimenez, Jr.

Players to Watch: Emmanuel Marin, So.

Season Outlook: One year after not winning a game, the Rifle boys soccer team exceeded expectations last fall, winning five games, including four in league play, under head coach David Romero. The Bears put together an impressive season in the midst of a rebuilding cycle. Now, the league knows the Bears are gaining traction, causing the team to remain level-headed moving into the 2018 season.

"Expectations about the same as last year, Romero said. "We always want to improve. We won five games, so we'd like to improve on that mark and start getting into the upper half of the league. If we can do that, that would be amazing for us. That's where I hope we end up. I think we can do it. We expect our defense to be very solid and carry us throughout the season."

jcarney@postindependent.com