Titans high school spring sports underway

By Than Acuff 

While it may be blowing and snowing, Crested Butte high school spring sports are underway with girls soccer, lacrosse and track and field all in the midst of their preseason workouts with competitions starting this weekend.

The weather is really nothing new, but some years are tougher than others and this one is right in the mix as far as “challenging” conditions for practices.

“It seems like Mother Nature waited for soccer to start to then start dumping on us,” jokes girls soccer head coach Tom Lewis.

Girls soccer

The Titans girls soccer team is looking for redemption this year. After reaching the state finals two years ago, they were knocked out of the tournament last year by Skyview Academy in the quarterfinals. The tough news is they lost quite a few seniors including goalie Mara Pennie and Ellie O’Neal.

The good news is that not only is their entire coaching staff returning this year, albeit with a little different make up, but they have several returning varsity starters and a massive freshmen class coming in.

Lewis has moved from the assistant coach position into the head coaching job this year while last year’s head coach Heather Culley has stepped away from the position to become an assistant coach.

“Heather and I coached the club team together last fall, and we sat down and talked and life changes for both of us allowed us to swap roles,” says Lewis. 

While the team has around 25 players showing up consistently for practices thus far, Lewis expects to see as many as 38 once winter sports end. Admittedly, that number can prove to be too many, but with Lewis, Culley, Matt Wilson and Adrienne Weil coaching and Drew Canale working with the goalkeepers, it works out just fine.

“When we’re indoors, it’s a lot but when we’re outside we can split team up between the four coaches and it works just fine,” says Lewis. “We just need to be very organized.”

Luckily, thanks to Western Colorado University and the grounds crew of the RE1J school district, the girls soccer team has outdoor fields to use four days a week with two sessions on Western’s turf and two on the field behind the Gunnison Middle School which the district has plowed.

“Knowing we have those fields ahead of time allows sessions to be much more expansive and having that now is great,” says Lewis. 

The loss of so many seniors and the influx of youth did have Lewis and Culley moving players around during the fall club season, but Lewis believes they have most everything figured out for the high school season.

“It was an adjustment in the fall, but we’ve managed to fill those voids because this group we have is really talented,” says Lewis. “We can keep building what we started in the fall.”

Given their talent level, the girls have set some goals for themselves this season which include not only getting to the state tournament but winning the title. There is also a commitment to keep pushing each other and maintaining a sense of accountability—all of which are built upon three tenets the program created a couple of years ago.

“It’s all underpinned by trust, determination and passion,” says Lewis. “The talent is there.”

The captains this year are Leigh Harpel, Sawyer Ezzell, Grace Bogard and Nora Thomes, and the team gets their first test this weekend when they head to Grand Junction to play Aspen and Basalt, Friday and Saturday, March 8–9. Their first home game, which they will play on the Western turf field, is scheduled for Friday, March 15 against Delta at 6 p.m. The very next day they hit the road to face defending 2A state champions Colorado Springs Christian.

“That will be a good indicator of where we are,” says Lewis. 

Lacrosse

Last season was the first year the Titans boys lacrosse team played an official varsity season, finishing 5-9, as injuries and illnesses plagued the team down the stretch under head coach Buck Seling.

Seling has stepped away from the position and Carter Brock is now the head coach with Alex Solomon and Chris Leavitt as his assistants. While coaching changes can have an adverse effect on a team, this one should be smoother than most as all three of them were assistant coaches for Seling last year.

“Buck paved the way for the program,” says Brock. “It was great to see the kids in the first year of varsity compete with some of the better teams. Nice to see the improvements throughout the year and that the commitment is there.”

Brock played lacrosse through middle and high school and went on to play two seasons at a community college. It was then that the sport really took hold of Brock.

“We had a Division I coach, it was awesome,” says Brock. “He changed my perspective on the game and I had a new found love for the game.”

Brock has 31 kids out this year, a great number for such a young program that lost a fair number of seniors to graduation. They too have benefitted from Western Colorado University and the Gunnison Middle School field spaces during preseason workouts.

He’s also included some film sessions into their preseason workouts and gym sessions when the weather refuses to cooperate.

“We’re doing a little bit of everything,” says Brock. “Taking full advantage of it all.”

Given that he has some returning starters, including senior goalie Gavin Fischer, some players returning from the JV team and some new to the program, workouts have been a mix of building on what’s in place, making changes where needed and getting newer players what they need.

“We definitely have some new things to put in place and we’re still working on the little things,” says Brock. “We’re looking great with a lot of players looking to step up into new roles.”

They had a scrimmage this week and then open play at Canyon View Park in Grand Junction where they will face Aspen on Saturday, March 9 at 1 p.m. They spend the first two weeks with road games but are scheduled to host Telluride on Friday, March 22.

“It’s still too early to tell but I hope to be in contention for top of the league,” says Brock. “That’s definitely the goal of the kids.”

Track and field

Last year, numbers soared for the Crested Butte Titans track and field team with 16 freshmen joining the team. This season, numbers are down slightly to 29 but, more importantly, those 16 athletes that tested the waters of high school track and field now have some experience under their belt coming in as sophomores.

“Last year half of the roster was freshmen,” says head coach Shari Sullivan-Marshall. “Having more upperclassmen this year means they’re just a little bit ready for more.”

Sullivan-Marshall admits they lost some girls and therefore some relays but with 29 athletes total, they should still be able to fill most events at meets.

“It makes a big difference when we have numbers,” says Sullivan-Marshall. “We’ll just have to be more prudent with our girls’ relays but we’ll going to be able to fill out some new events with the boys.”

Sullivan-Marshall has over 20 years of coaching either Titans track and/or cross-country and has Sophia Klein back again helping her with the sprinters. The big news on the coaching front is the addition of Katheryne Hinze. Hinze hits a piece of the coaching staff that has been missing on a consistent level for years.

“We’ve been looking for someone to coach jumps, hurdles and throws and it’s so great to now have a technical coach,” says Sullivan-Marshall. “She’s what was missing. It’s so good, all the kids are getting attention.”

Thanks to Western Colorado University, the track and field team can get on a track and train two days a week and then spend the other three days like they always have mixing in outside workouts, when possible, with work in the gyms and hallways as well as some strength and flexibility training.

The Titans track and field team opens the meet season with the Delta Pantherfest on Saturday, March 16, and then heads back to that area the following two weekends before a big meet at Stocker Stadium in Grand Junction.

“We’re really excited to get them on a big track and see what they can do,” says Sullivan-Marshall.

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