Wednesday, November 7, 2001
Steamboat Springs When Soroco football re-enters the 1A Western Slope League after a two-year hiatus, it won't be the only newcomer in the league next year.
Three other schools will make their league debut along with Soroco, which will double the number of teams in the league from four to eight. Moving from a 2A to 1A class, Meeker, Rangely and Paonia's enrollment has pushed them down to the 1A Western Slope League.
Even with the added competition, Soroco football coach Steve Longwell is looking forward to getting his team back to varsity action in 2002. In January 2000, Longwell made the decision to drop to a junior varsity schedule after 17 players went out for the team in 1999.
With a 3-6 finish, Longwell said his team saw improvement from last year, which came up with only one win.
"We felt like throughout the season we did much better. We started executing more, started playing together as a team a lot more. Overall, it was great," Longwell said.
Losing just two seniors to graduation, Soroco will be returning most of its 26 players, including four seniors and its biggest class of 11 juniors. Expecting eight or nine freshmen to add to the team, Longwell hopes to see his numbers level out at 30 next year.
"We felt that we already played long enough (with the JV schedule)," Longwell said. "We think we're ready to come back up and play."
Hayden coach Kevin Kleckler is also ready to see the Rams rejoining the league and the prospect of renewing the rivalry, something he said his team misses.
"Our kids are chomping at the bit to get the team back so we can play them," Kleckler said. "Not to have that the last two years, that's been tough on them and tough for us. We enjoy playing them."
Even though Kleckler is stepping down as head football coach to take over as Hayden's athletics director, he is eager to see more competition in the league. It means his team will no longer have to suffer through the double round of league play that had the Tigers playing West Grand, Plateau Valley and Grand Valley twice for the past two years.
Of the four teams coming into the league, Meeker has the strongest record this year and offers the biggest threat to perennial powerhouse West Grand.
At 6-3, Meeker just missed making the 2A playoffs this year, beat out by Gunnison. Meeker head coach Craig Paschal said dropping to 1A will help his team when going against schools with similar sizes.
"(The change) we've seen is depth. We might have eight or nine men going both ways. There are two platoons in just about every team we play. They wear us down," Paschal said. "Hayden and West Grand play both ways. It's equal footing."
This year, Paschal had 45 players out and expects numbers to grow smaller as the school's class size decreases. Right now, Paschal is looking at an eighth-grade class with 50 students.
Meeker, Rangely and Paonia had to drop to the Class 1A league when their October enrollment was below the 235 cutoff of the Class 2A system. Under Colorado High School Activities Association guidelines, the teams will be in the Class 1A league for at least two years.
Meeker has not been in the Class 1A league for more than 10 years but has played against teams like Hayden and Grand Valley in preseason games and scrimmages.
"I think we'll be competitive. We don't expect to run over everyone," Paschal said. "We're going down with Rangely and Paonia. All those teams are really competitive. It is one of the better 1A leagues in the state."
Although CHSAA has not come up with the official standings, Kleckler believes an increase in the league's number of teams will bring an extra spot for the state playoffs. With just four teams, the league advanced the top two to the playoffs this year.
"I think it is going to (be) great because there's better competition. When we get into playoffs, that makes us that much stronger; we'll do that much better," Kleckler said.