In January when the Cheyenne Mountain baseball team began its preseason practices, head coach Mark Swope wasn’t convinced his team would be in the mix for a league title - let alone a state championship.
“With all of the sophomores we had, and a couple freshmen who were going to play some roles, we were just hoping to use this season as a building block moving forward,” Swope said.
Flash forward a few months and his team was playing for a spot in the 4A state championship game. The Cinderella run ended in the play-in game, but the Indians had a wild ride, surpassing all expectations and storming through the state tournament as a No. 7 seed.
But Swope, who was named the Gazette Preps Baseball Coach of the Year, could not have done it alone.
His large staff of six assistants worked tirelessly in the preseason and coached up players during games to help the Indians reach their unexpected success.
“They take ownership in those positions and that’s a key ingredient for us,” Swope sad. “Most varsity staffs have three coaches in the dugout, so it’s great to able to have that many guys who want to be a part of something. These kids are being coached up every inning by their position coach, you don’t see that a lot in high school.”
The senior leadership on this year’s Cheyenne Mountain squad also helped Swope at the end of the regular season when the Indians hit a rut while charging for the 4A/5A Pikes Peak Conference title.
Cheyenne Mountain was swept by Palmer Ridge to end the regular season, falling in an extra-inning game and a one-run heartbreaker. The Bears made off with the conference championship.
“Our season could have gone south right there, but we stayed with it,” Swope said.
Despite the setback, Cheyenne Mountain won its region.
“The seniors on this team - two senior captains, specifically - were a really big part of that success,” Swope said. “The guys rallied around them a little bit. Jason Randall, our senior catcher, was big and making this season special, and Chase McCleary at shortstop. The young guys looked up to them - we can’t make this run that we made without their leadership.”
Swope said although he is losing some leadership, Cheyenne Mountain’s success in the postseason will leave no doubt that his team has the ability to get there again.
“I think they know they can do it moving forward,” Swope said. “But success has no memory. Just because we made a special run this year, an unexpected run, that doesn’t mean anything going into net year. We have to keep getting better.”