At this time last year, Kelley Stewart loved her life as a basketball coach, but didn't much like having her team comprised of several members of her Pine Creek girls' basketball team on the road, again.
Because of a lack of competition at the 2013 Rocky Mountain State Games, the longtime Eagles mentor decided it was best to play at a more worthwhile tournament in Denver.
Not this year.
Thanks to a decrease in registration fees to go with early signup incentives, the total number of teams at this year's edition of the Rocky Mountain State Games more than doubled, numbering 72 teams overall, giving Stewart a reason to stay much closer to home.
"It's exciting to have 11 teams (in the girls' junior varsity division), that we have the opportunity to play teams we haven't yet," said Stewart, who led the varsity squad to a 21-win season and a share of the 5A Metro League title last season. "Last year, they didn't have enough teams to make it worthwhile. To be able to be home is great. I think the parents are probably more excited than I am."
Each year following the conclusion of the RMSG, officials at the Colorado Springs Sports Corp rehash the things that went right, and the things that didn't, in an extensive after-action report.
For basketball, which struggled to fill out some divisions, the issue of steep registration fees was mentioned more than once.
So, the Sports Corp lowered the bottom line for the 2014 Games, and also asked local teams to enter early so perhaps other teams would jump on the bandwagon.
"We went back to the drawing board for basketball," said Doug Martin, chief operating officer for the Sports Corp. "We not only lowered fees, but had incentives for teams to sign up early. Once you have that base of teams, it's easier to bring more in. We want to make the State Games affordable. Our goal is participation. And, if a team has a good experience and sees that the tournament is well run, they'll tell their friends, and they'll come back the next year."
The Aurora-based Colorado Swoosh made the trip south for the fifth time in eight years, but this season turned away from longer journeys, such as Las Vegas or sites in Nebraska or Kansas, for gyms in the Pikes Peak region instead.
"This is a good place to come, and there are definitely a lot more teams this year," club coach Glen Stoner said, following a setback to JR Heat, a team made primarily of Sierra players. "This is our trip. We want to get them used to traveling, because that's the next level when they get to varsity."
Stoner's daughter, Jessica, didn't seem to mind playing in Manitou Springs, as opposed to playing in Las Vegas or destinations with more glamour.
"It's pretty nice here," said Stoner, a sophomore at Eaglecrest. "We're here because we want to play higher competition so we can get better. We didn't win the first game, but we're learning how to work together more."