Homecoming weekend September 14-16
by Than Acuff
Crested Butte Titans high school sports have been hammering the past two weeks dusting the rust off from the summer for their upcoming fall seasons. Preseason workouts included, as they often do, skills and fitness with a little hometown workouts thrown in the mix including the cross-country team hiking Crested Butte Mountain and the soccer team climbing Gothic.
All sports open their seasons this week with volleyball playing in a tournament in Gunnison on Saturday, September 2, cross-country headed to Leadville on Saturday, September 2 for a race and the soccer team hosting Salida on Thursday, August 31 at 4:30 p.m. at Rainbow and then hitting the road Saturday, September 2 to face Alamosa.
Last year the Titans cross country team closed out on a high note as the girls team qualified for state with Sydney Petersen leading the way finishing in sixth place.
This year the team has a change in coaching, but not too big of a change, as both Laura Daniels and Shari Sullivan-Marshall return to the helm after taking a brief hiatus from coaching Titan runners.
Daniels and Sullivan-Marshall have a nice mold of clay to work with as 12 titans, five girls and seven boys, have laced up the shoes for the upcoming season. While some are veteran runners, they also have a host of underclassmen to work with and have spent the past two weeks getting them prepared for the upcoming season.
“We didn’t really know what to anticipate so we’re happy with the numbers,” says Sullivan-Marshall. “We’ve focused a lot on rebuilding and working as a team and getting miles under our feet. We’re really happy with the progress they’re making.”
Three seniors, Vincent Michel, Petersen and Maria O’Neal, lead the team. Both Petersen and O’Neal made it to the state championships and Michel finished his junior year just a few spots shy of the top 15 to go to the state championships.
“Last year they were consistent and fast,” says Sullivan-Marshall. “They’re leading the workouts and it’ll be great to watch them lead the way.”
In the meantime, both coaches have been working diligently to get their new runners up to speed, as this will be the first year for many of them running the five-kilometer distance.
They open the season on Saturday, September 2 with a race in Leadville. The course is notorious for it’s altitude coming in at 10,000 feet in elevation, arguably the highest high school cross country course in the nation. Given the youth of the team and the altitude, expectations are somewhat muted but with the veteran runners in the mix, anything can still happen.
“We’re definitely going into the meet with a lot of our runners learning how to race a 5k smart,” says Sullivan-Marshall. “For at least half of the team it will be their first 5k. Still, I think we may surprise ourselves.”
Volleyball is suffering the slings and arrows of gradation in a small school. The squad lost numerous players to graduation last year and has just one senior this season with the majority of the 24 players out for the team freshmen and sophomores. The good news is they have head coach Heather Perry returning for her 16th year coaching volleyball and her second year as the head coach of the Titans team.
Perry has called on Liz Wigginton as her assistant this year. Wigginton grew up playing in a similarly small school program and Perry believes that could help with understanding the players’ frame of mind in their approach to the game.
“She can relate to the kids on the whole small town kids vibe,” says Perry.
Perry put the kids through her preseason workouts and while, in the past, some drop out of the program due to the demands of preseason, this year every one of the 24 players that started are still in it.
“Usually we lose some during two-a-days but they all persevered this year,” says Perry.
While the team is young, Perry got some insight into their strength of character as they battled for varsity spots during two of the preseason days with a handful picking up their game when it mattered
“They kind of surprised me,” says Perry. “Maybe this group of kids thrives under pressure. There’s a lot of raw talent in the younger players and the skill is there, they just need to reel it in.”
Senior Katherine Washburn has taken on the role of leader setting the tone for the team on and of the court. Perry is looking for her junior players to be the base of consistency and has some sophomores that bring hits and blocks to the systems that will take time to hone in but once they’re dialed, they could prove to be effective.
They will have their hands full with their league, one that features three to four strong programs.
“We can compete, we just can’t seem to break into that top foursome,” says Perry. ”Then the two below us just aren’t that strong so I feel like we’re in no man’s land in the league.”
The varsity team open the season with a tournament in Gunnison on Saturday, September 2 and Perry has a couple things she is looking for out of her team throughout the tournament.
“If we can consistently serve well, pass well and move as a team I’ll be happy with that,” says Perry.
Soccer is coming off a relatively successful campaign in 2016. The Titans won the league for the second year in a row but fell to Salida in the first round of the state tournament 3-2.
“That was tough,” says coach Than Acuff. “The state tournament is our nemesis and we have a tough time raising our game to the next level to match wits with programs out of our league, both literally and figuratively.”
This year bodes well for the Titans as they have eight seniors, a gaggle of talented underclassmen and some new faces on the coaching staff.
Dave Esposito has been working with Acuff and the Titans all preseason bringing a wealth of experience to the coaching staff and players. Mike Eaton returns to the fold to help out a couple of days a week, as does Bob Piccaro. Furthermore, the goaltenders have two local men helping out with training specific to their position.
“I’m lucky to have the staff I have this season,” says Acuff. “That takes a lot of the weight off my shoulders and lets the kids hear a different voice chirping in their ears.”
Preseason ran the usual gamut of skills, fitness and the team hike. Yet, things are ramped up a bit this year adding in specific elements to preseason workouts that are typically held off until midway through the year.
“We’ve got players that are prepared to jump right into things thanks to the pipeline of club soccer and an overall interest in the sport,” explains Eaton. “The proof will come in the first game though.”
Their first test will come immediately for the Titans as they open the season against Salida on Thursday, August 31 at 4:30 p.m. at Rainbow field. Salida is a perennial state contender and have had a stranglehold on Crested Butte the past several years.
“That game will show where we are talent and fitness wise,” says Eaton. “I believe we have the talent to contend with them, it’s just a matter of putting the pieces together for 80 minutes. You let off for just one moment and Salida will make you pay.”
The coaches will lean on their seniors to set the example this year and hope their experience will pay off in spades.
“We’ve got a strong returning core and a strong senior class who will hopefully lead by example,” says Eaton.
As for the season, the Titans are in the hunt for another league title but it’s going to be tough.
“Every game will be a dogfight, we have to be on point all season long,” says Eaton. “Fortunately, we have enough talent on the team that if things aren’t clicking, we can draw from the pool of younger players without missing a beat.”