CMS football, volleyball programs prepare athletes for next level

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Todd Hildebrandt, head coach of the Craig Middle School eighth-grade football team, hasn’t had much trouble continuing the winning tradition established by his predecessor.

Hildebrandt replaced coach Gary Tague, who retired last fall after 30 years at CMS. Tague had numerous winning seasons, including some undefeated campaigns.

The middle school’s football program, however, appears to have been left in good hands with Hildebrandt, who coached with Tague for eight years, and also led the seventh-grade team.

The CMS eighth-graders have started the season 2-0.

“There is no way I could do the job (Tague) did, but I learned from everything he did by coaching alongside him,” Hildebrandt said.

“Gary has forgotten more about football than most guys know and he leaves big shoes to fill, but I have a good team and good kids.”

Hildebrandt, who is coaching the same team he did last season, said one year of experience is important for his players in the beginning of the season.

“Having one year of 11-man football is really beneficial because the kids know more about the game,” he said. “We can get into a little more complex things. We don’t want to get too complicated, but they can handle it.”

The coach credited this season’s start to individual and team confidence.

Hildebrandt said he benefited by working with Moffat County High School varsity football head coach Kip Hafey in the offseason, which should help the CMS program develop players for the next level.

“(Kip) Hafey and I talked in the offseason and I wanted to know what he expected as far as offense and defense goes,” he said. “These kids will know what they are supposed to know and be more confident when they reach high school.”

Matt Ray took over for Hildebrandt with the seventh-grade team.

Ray coached the Hayden High School junior varsity football team for four years and the MCHS freshmen football team for eight years before stepping down.

Now, with his team 2-0, Ray said he is glad to be back on the sidelines.

“Todd asked me to come back and I really enjoy the game and have fun with the kids,” he said. “Middle school football is laid back and I thought it would be the right fit for me.

“Plus, I missed the football atmosphere.”

Ray said the players he has this season have a leg up on many of the teams the Bulldogs face in large part due to the Doak Walker tackle football program in Craig.

“The kids have the fundamental skills when they come in and they understand the concept of the game,” he said. “It is the first year of football for some of the schools we play, but our kids have four years of experience already.”

CMS volleyball teams off to decent start

While a high school volleyball game’s most exciting moments may be spikes, in middle school it’s about technique.

Michelle Henderson, in her second year as head coach of the CMS eighth-grade volleyball team, said she tries to focus on fundamentals with her players.

“I want to make sure they are good and solid in passing and moving their feet,” she said. “I try to help them learn the game and develop a love and passion for the sport.”

Henderson has three squads this year — the A-team (1-1), B-team (2-0) and C-team (1-0).

Henderson said she has worked with MCHS varsity volleyball head coach Sandy Camilletti to make sure her players are ready for high school competition, much like the approach Hildebrandt uses with Hafey.

“I do have a few girls on the A-team who can spike, so we really focus on bump, set, spike to get the ball over,” Henderson said. “But, for the B-team and the C-team, I stress going for three hits and getting the ball over so they can work up to bump, set, spike.”

Unlike football, however, the seventh-grade volleyball players don’t benefit from playing youth volleyball.

Cristy Simpson, head coach of the CMS seventh-grade team, said by focusing on basics like ball control and serving, players can come a long way in the course of a season.

“In the first week, a lot of the girls have never touched a volleyball,” Simpson said. “But, by learning to make the passes and serving, they cannot only get the ball over the net, but they are winning games.”

The seventh-grade A-team is 2-0 this season, while the B-team and C-team are both 0-2.

Joshua Gordon can be reached at 875-1795 or at joshgordon@craigdailypress.com.

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