October 15, 2012 Updated: July 3, 2013 at 9:31 am
Tanya Ramsay had long prepared for the day when she would finally take over a softball program of her own.
She played the sport in college and coached as an assistant at UCCS for seven years, so she was so excited for the first day of practice at Discovery Canyon in the summer of 2007.
Three girls showed up.
“I thought maybe they didn’t know that was the day we were starting,” Ramsay said.
That’s where the program began, with a scene straight of a movie where Ramsay and her college-level staff set out to teach the most basic of fundamentals to girls who didn’t know they couldn’t run straight from the batter’s box to second base.
Two years later they qualified for state.
Saturday, the Thunder earned their third state tournament in the span of four years. They’ve made breaking in a new program look easy, and they’re not alone.
Vista Ridge and Palmer Ridge opened at the same time as Discovery Canyon, and this year Palmer Ridge celebrated a Pikes Peak Athletic Conference title in boys’ soccer and Vista Ridge blew out Pine Creek to establish itself as the area’s top 4A football program.
It has all happened so fast.
“Not too many coaches have an opportunity to do that, to build a program from scratch,” Ramsay said. “We came in with the goals of building a tradition and building a family atmosphere.”
The approach has worked, as the program owns an .800 winning percentage.
The Vista Ridge football program has enjoyed similar success. The Wolves made it to the 3A semifinals in 2010, their first year with seniors in the school. They returned to the playoffs last year and this year seem poised for a deep run in their inaugural season in 4A.
For the Wolves, the groundwork was laid at the middle school level where former coach Dean Huffman and his staff took over and climbed the ladder with that first class through their semifinal run. Of that original staff, two remain, including current head coach Les Johnson -- who was the original defensive coordinator -- and Dave Thompson.
This has been the first year of semi-major changes to the staff, as Johnson has brought aboard a new offensive coordinator as well as quarterbacks, defensive line, defensive backs and wide receivers coaches. The offensive line, running backs and linebackers coaches were there last season.
Continuity also aided the process at Palmer Ridge, where coach Nick Odil moved from Lewis-Palmer to Palmer Ridge with the first freshman class and has been coaching them ever since.
Odil coached the Bears to a Pioneer League championship four years ago. That was the league of new schools that included the three local newcomers as well as Valor Christian.
Their second league title was clinched last week, a bit bigger feat as it came in the PPAC.
“When you look at a Cheyenne Mountain or a Lewis-Palmer, they’ve got that tradition behind them and at times win games because of who they are. We don’t have that, we have to build our own.
“I’ve always told the guys we’re good enough,” Odil added. “The first couple of years we walked into some games and beat ourselves because we didn’t believe. We didn’t believe we were there.”
The belief ought to be there by now, as the Bears are 36-9-1 over the past three years.
The success has spread to nearly every sport. Palmer Ridge has twice been to state in golf, produced a cross country champion, went to a baseball final four in 2011 and has a girls’ soccer program — also coached by Odil — which has basically mirrored the boys’ team with its success.
Discovery Canyon has a state tennis champion at No. 2 singles and several state track individual gold medals.
Vista Ridge is also a track power, finished second in the league’s golf standings this year and now features some of the area’s newest and nicest facilities.
And as good as things have been for the new schools, Ramsay sees a future that’s even brighter.
At the Discovery Canyon homecoming celebration last week, Ramsay’s softball team was on a float that paraded through the school’s K-12 population and received rousing applause. Even the youngest in the school understood the team’s accomplishments and shared in the celebration.
“It brought a tear to my eye,” Ramsay said. “What a huge family environment.”
And what a promising future pipeline — one that started just five years ago with three players.