Western slope up in air

A year ago in the girls basketball Class 4A Western Slope conference the Rifle Bears dominated the league by running away with the title. This year teams are filled with underclassmen and the league title is up for grabs.

Teams in the conference are the Moffat County Bulldogs, Steamboat Springs Sailors, Glenwood Springs Demons and Delta Panthers.

Last year, the Bears finished 7-1 in league play and 19-4 overall to claim the crown.

"This year we have two starters that are coming back," said Bears coach Rick Schmitz. "We just have one senior that is coming back."

Schmitz doesn't know how his team will fair this season.

"It's hard to say how things are going in preseason. I won't know where we really are until we start playing games," said Schmitz. "I have always emphasized defense. I want to be a good defensive team and a good rebounding team. Then we kind of go from there."

Schmitz believes this year the title is their for the taking.

"I think that there are four teams that could win the league," said Schmitz. "I watched Moffat County play last summer and I was impressed with their speed and quickness.

"I would think that the team that is going to win the league will have to maintain a pretty high level of intensity during the league season."

MCHS will field a young team, but underclassmen with experience.

"We have six returning lettermen coming back this year," said Bulldogs coach Craig Mortensen. "We have one senior and we have a good group of juniors and sophomores."

"I think that our league will be balanced this year," said Mortensen. "Everyone lost a lot of players from last year. I don't think there will a clear cut favorite and hopefully we can challenge for the title."

The Steamboat Springs Sailors finished conference play with a 5-3 record.

"We had an interesting year last season, because we beat everybody in the league at least once but everybody also beat us once as well," said Sailors coach Bruce Alston. "One time when we played Rifle we took them to overtime and the other time we played them it was close."

According to Alston, the Sailors will play 10 players.

"We have three players that played a lot last year coming back," said Alston. "Those three that are coming back will be the strong nucleus of the team. We will go deep to about nine or 10 players."

Alston said the Sailors are making progress each time they take the court.

"The opening game always comes up on you pretty fast. You have a lot to learn and a lot to put in," said Alston. "The attitude is really positive and we think that we have a good opportunity in our league to do well. The girls are working hard and I see improvement every day."

Alston taps the Bears as the team to beat.

"I think that Rifle is the favorite going into the season," said Alston. "They are really well-coached and they just have a solid program.

"Rifle did lose a couple of players, but they did have a strong junior varsity team. They should be pretty good."

A year ago the Glenwood Springs Demons finished with an 11-10 overall record.

"We had some tough losses in the league because we played Rifle three times," said Demons first-year coach Charlie Brenzikofer. "We had some good games. It will be tough again this year. We have a great bunch of young players and we only have four seniors."

The Demons will look to push the ball up the court.

"We are small and we are going to use our speed and quickness to our advantage," said Brenzikofer. "We will press a lot. We have some young players that want to move around and they bring a lot of intensity. That makes up for the size we don't have."

"I think that the league will be very even this year," said Brenzikofer. "Personally, I think that Moffat County will be tough to beat. They had some strong young kids last year and Rifle will have a good team as well."

The Delta coach was unavailable for comment.

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