Steamboat girls headed to Rifle

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— The Rifle Bears are hoping they can upend the visiting Steamboat Sailors tonight without their head coach on the sideline.

The game, which tips off at 7 p.m., pits a battle of Western Slope powerhouses.

Rick Schmitz, who began his 12th year as head coach of the Bears this season, underwent back surgery Monday to correct a herniated disk.

Schmitz is expected to be out for at least a week.

Filling in for him will be assistant coach Jack Smith, who brings his own experience to the program.

Smith coached the Bears' boys basketball team from 1973-1980. From 1980-85, he was the head football coach and assistant baseball coach, as well as the freshman boys basketball coach.

He also coached the girls basketball team from 1985-1990, until retiring that year.

In 1992, Smith came out of retirement to help out as an assistant for the varsity girls, which is what he still does.

The Bears, who played at Glenwood Springs Thursday night, know their toughest challenge tonight will be trying to match up with the Sailors' speed.

"I don't think we're going to stop them," Smith said. "We might slow them down a little bit, but they've got too many weapons. We'll just try to execute and do things well and see if it works in our favor at the end of the game."

Steamboat comes off a 39-21 victory over Battle Mountain Jan. 6 in Avon.

Rifle, which also trounced Battle Mountain this season, is a heavy favorite to repeat as conference champions. The Bears have all of their starters back from last year's team, including star athlete Lisa Samuelson.

Samuelson, a 5-foot-9 senior, has been bothered by a knee injury for most of the season but should be close to 100 percent by game time, Smith said.

The Sailors are led by senior Brienna Combs, who is averaging 14.3 points and 9.8 rebounds per game.

Natalie Muth averages 10.1 points per game and Ashley Rogers averages 5.5 rebounds and 4.5 points.

Emily Hines, a junior, is averaging more than four points per game.

The Bears have been efficient this season at running their press, though Steamboat coach Bruce Alston said his team has experience against similar defenses.

Despite having been bogged down by finals all week, the Sailors players are eager to get back onto the court, Alston said.

"It's the only game that the varsity will have this week," Alston said. "The girls will be ready to play. I think because (Rifle's) rated so highly, the pressure is on them."

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