Caprock Academy steadily gaining experience, success in sports school offers
Just outside of Caprock Academy sits a grassy clearing.
One side faces the traffic on G Road, another a thicket of brush, one is next to a parking lot, and the fourth side faces the small, K-12 public charter school, which opened in 2007.
There’s nothing about the clearing denoting it as a soccer field, which is also used for plenty of other activities.
When Robert Flenard started coaching the Eagles’ boys soccer team, which began playing a junior varsity schedule in the 2014-15 school year, he was equipped with seven plastic soccer balls, some orange cones and flimsy aluminum goal frames, bent from younger students hanging on them during recess. The Caprock players did the best they could with what they had and practiced on the green area outside the school. Then they traveled to Vail for their first game and the differences were shocking.
Some members the team had never played competitive soccer before, so even the lines of the artificial turf field were relatively new. It was much different than the field outside Caprock Academy and the Eagles lost the game.
They’ve lost more games in the years since, but soccer, like all of the athletic programs at Caprock Academy, continues to grow.
In September, the Eagles defeated Grand Valley’s junior varsity squad 3-2, the first victory in the program’s history. Caprock led 2-0 at halftime, surrendered a goal early in the second half that Flenard said “woke the boys back up,” and opened a 3-1 lead on a toe poke by Dion Cantu. That allowed the Eagles to put the game away.
“I personally think, because we had never won before, Grand Valley came out a little flat,” Flenard said. “We didn’t necessarily dominate — we don’t possess the ball a lot because we’re not a possession team because we’re still learning — we possessed the ball a lot early on and I think that kinda shocked everyone a little bit. Grand Valley wasn’t quite ready for it. We’ve got a some kids, a senior and a couple juniors, who are very big, very fast, and they’ve got some skill. We weren’t used to being the bigger team. We’re usually the smaller team, physically, and so we were able to kinda body them a little bit.”
When Caprock started its athletic programs, then-Athletic Director Dan Sherrill said the school picked its first sports based off cost and student interest. Soccer checked both boxes, but small-school soccer in Colorado can be challenging. Where Caprock’s volleyball and basketball teams share a league with similarly sized-schools like Paonia, Hotchkiss and Meeker, many of those schools don’t field boys soccer teams. Outside of some mountain towns, football is typically the more popular choice and because of a limited student population to pull from, those schools simply don’t have the boys to play soccer.
This leaves Caprock Academy slated for a Class 3A league when it joins varsity competition, with likely opponents being schools like Coal Ridge, Delta, Moffat County and Aspen. Smaller schools have been successful in those leagues, but the level of competition is part of the reason Caprock Academy has remained at a junior varsity level as it continues to build up its program.
Another factor is participation numbers. Although enrollment numbers at Caprock Academy continue to climb, especially at the elementary and middle school levels, the Eagles’ boys soccer team has only 13 players. If the school’s rigorous academic standards leaves one player ineligible, or if someone is sick, it can mean the team has very few, if any, substitutes. Numbers are further diminished by students who are focused solely on academics, students who want to specialize in basketball, and students who can play at a varsity level at a different school in the valley.
Still, the club now has numerous synthetic leather soccer balls, sturdier goal frames and, most importantly, experience.
Garret Jordan, a junior at Caprock, started playing during his freshman year.
“I just wanted to try a new thing,” Jordan said. “Just learn something new and try to find new friends, especially, because we’re not the most social at Caprock. It’s just meeting new people and establishing a new connection with them. You find out things you wouldn’t have if you just pass them in the hallway.”
The biggest challenge, he added, is to bring together 11 players with various levels of skill, athleticism and experience.
“We’ve had to learn, mainly, how to communicate as a team,” Jordan said. “Understand how to work and cooperate as a team. More than that, we have to learn what to do to help each other, too. Also, to do individual skills as well. Working really hard on doing traps and making the right runs and generally trying to understand the game a little better. Trying to help our teammates understand, as well, because we are all at different levels of skill right now.”
The boys soccer team is the latest to make strides at the school.
In the coming months, Caprock Academy will hang a banner in its gym to honor runner Elsie Wilkens, who finished third in the Class 1A 3200-meter run and fifth in the 1600 last spring. Its volleyball team has won more league games than ever before this fall and has a 5-7 record overall. Both the boys and girls basketball teams return large portions of their rosters, and both the track and cross-country teams have steadily become more competitive.
Caprock Academy joined the Colorado High School Activities Association before launching varsity sports programs during the 2014-15 school year — starting with volleyball, boys and girls basketball, and track and field. Future expansion is unclear, but the programs have grown so much that new help was needed.
Sherrill, who was fulfilling several roles for Caprock Academy in addition to being the school’s first athletic director, has moved full-time to a role as facilities and business director. Bruce Crowhurst replaced Sherrill as athletic director, bringing experience in the position from Steamboat Springs, Middle Park and Palisade.
“I think there’s fantastic opportunity here,” Crowhurst said. “We can kinda create the atmosphere we want and operate the way we want. Knowing CHSAA, that makes it a lot easier, just having that experience, so I can come in here and bring some expertise.
“The challenges are money and getting people interested. This school has a really good reputation for academics, so now we have to work on creating that same type of reputation with the athletics. Not separately, but how the academic and athletic pieces can be successful together.”
Sherrill echoed Crowhurst, saying academics and athletics are an appealing combination for the school.
“I think we’re getting to the point, at least with the sports that we offer, that kids can come get a great education in a small-school environment,” Sherrill said. “We have 200 (high school) kids, not 2,000. Every one of our high school teachers knows every one of our high school students by name and is invested in them. At the same time, these kids have the opportunity to compete in a pretty competitive league. Kids who are riding the bench at Junction could be great players in a 2A Western Slope League. That’s a unique position we hold in the valley and hopefully as we continue to show more competitiveness, we’ll have opportunities to attract kids who want ... a really solid academic base, a safe environment and an opportunity to really enjoy their high school sports.”
Crowhurst said if any sport is added in the near future, it’d be girls soccer and that there have been loose discussions regarding golf or tennis. Students interested in other sports, especially sports with high start-up costs like football, would continue to play at other schools.
Additions to facilities are likely on the horizon for Caprock Academy. Sherrill said plans have been discussed for an auxiliary gym and locker rooms.
“It’s what you’d typically see at a small-school auxiliary gym,” Sherrill said. “JV girls and boys (basketball) playing at the same time so we don’t go so late into the night, or where we can still have a middle school volleyball practice if we have a high school game, or a high school practice if we have a middle school game. It would make it a little easier on our kids and our parents to not have to bring kids back so late at night.”