Kelley Rifilato was ready to return to volleyball coaching in La Plata County. The right fit still had to emerge.
The longtime coach was hired by Durango High School this summer to take over the Demons volleyball program. She had spent the previous two years as an assistant coach with Dixie High School in St. George, Utah. She had served as head coach at Fort Lewis College from 2013-17 and before that was the Bayfield High School head coach for six seasons.
“Being up at Fort Lewis as the head coach, my camps were always jam packed with people, and I got an opportunity to build relationships with a lot of these kids from Durango High,” Rifilato said. “I am excited to finally work with them. I know a lot of their names, and some since they were really little. I know they are very athletic.”
Rifilato and her husband, Ed, both left coaching positions at Fort Lewis College in 2018 and went to Utah. Ed, who has twice served as head coach of the FLC football team and was the defensive coordinator in 2017, joined the staff at Dixie State University, while Kelley returned to the high school level where she has had plenty of success.
Ed came back to Durango to join the FLC football staff once more as defensive coordinator in 2019. But Kelley remained in Utah.
She was eager to get back home, especially after the birth of new grandson, Eddie.
“To be back in Colorado not only with my husband but with our grandson, it’s great,” Rifilato said. “One of the rules in our house when my husband was coaching Division I a long time ago was that we were never living apart. We never did. It’s kind of funny we ended up doing that as adults coaching Division II and high school.”
Durango School District 9-R athletic director Ryan Knorr was happy to hire a coach with the experience of Rifilato, who also had served as a coach at two different clubs in Utah. At Dixie High, Rifilato’s team finished ninth in 2018 and reached the Class 4A semifinals in 2019.
Knorr said he received a call from Fort Lewis College athletic director Brandon Leimbach regarding Rifilato, and Knorr was immediately interested in having her interview.
“She has a lot of history here and came highly recommended,” Knorr said. “Her résumé is pretty amazing. It was the perfect storm for us to get her here, and I think the girls are excited, as well.”
Pretty amazing résuméAt Fort Lewis College, Rifilato’s Skyhawks went 38-94 overall and 26-56 in Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference play. The team made one RMAC tournament appearance in 2013.
It was at Bayfield High School where Rifilato was a mainstay in the postseason. She led the Wolverines to the playoffs all six seasons, including four consecutive Class 3A state tournament appearances from 2009-12. BHS finished third at state in 2009 and 2011.
She won the Intermountain League Coach of the Year award five times and was The Denver Post Coach of the Year in 2009. Her teams won at least 20 games all six seasons. She departed the Wolverines with a 135-29 overall record and an astonishing 49-1 league record.
Daughters Gabriella and Katherine were stars of those teams and each went on to play in college at Adams State University.
Before her time at BHS, Rifilato was the interim head coach of New Mexico Highlands University in 1997.
“We love when volleyball is strengthened in our rural area,” said current BHS head coach Terene Foutz. “I’m all for Durango getting a championship-level coach. For Durango, it’s been a long time since they have taken the Southwestern League championship. They have come close here or there, but Rifilato is definitely the coach to get Durango back on top in 4A. Like any program, she just needs time and the opportunity to get in the gym with her kids.”
Rifilato will replace Colleen Vogt, who resigned to be with newborn son, Troy.
“It was a good ride over seven years,” Vogt said. “I had a lot of fun and got to work with a lot of pretty incredible student-athletes I am going to miss tremendously.”
Vogt took over the Demons, her alma mater, before the 2013 season. Vogt’s teams went 91-81 overall and 35-27 in SWL play. The best season of 17-8 overall and 6-2 in SWL came in 2017, when the Demons finished second in the league behind Class 5A Fruita Monument.
DHS has not reached the Class 4A state tournament since 2012 under head coach Robin Oliger, who led the team to a runner-up finish at state in 1994 and a third-place finish in 2006. Oliger was removed from her position the day before she was set to begin her 26th season as DHS head coach, and Vogt assumed the role of head coach.
“I am really looking forward to building on (Vogt’s) success and, hopefully, taking the kids onto bigger and better things,” Rifilato said. “I’ve always been a person who trusts fundamentals regardless of the age group I coach. I think that will help with success at the high school level at Durango.
“I would love to get this team to state. The whole state environment, once you have tasted that, you just want to continue going back. It has been awhile since Durango has been there, but we play in a very difficult league with the 4A/5A combo. First, we have to prove ourselves in league. Knocking off the likes of Fruita and Montrose, those teams are hard. Hopefully, I will get these kids’ sights set on finding a way to win league and get through that. The rest will happen from there.”
Whatever it takes for 2020Rifilato was excited to see 63 girls interested in playing volleyball in 2020, with a large class of freshmen incoming. Now, she hopes there will be a season with the COVID-19 pandemic threatening fall sports after all of the 2020 spring sports season was canceled by the Colorado High School Activities Association because of the new coronavirus.
She has been allowed to work with no more than 10 players in the gym at one time this summer as well as outdoor conditioning workouts with no more than 25. Rifilato is eager to get to work, no matter how many athletes she can gather at one time.
“If it takes me all day to spend time with little groups, we will do whatever it takes,” she said. “Right now, all I am looking forward to is these kids playing. They have been at home and want to get out and play a little volleyball.”
As for an anticipated return to coaching at BHS, this time in Demons red and black instead of Bayfield purple and gold, Rifilato said she will be excited to be back on the sidelines in a gym where she saw so much success.
“I saw them on the schedule. It will be interesting,” she said. “I love Bayfield and had a great experience there. My kids grew up there. But I also love Durango, too. It will be a fun environment. The rivalry has never stopped, and it will be great to see some people and extended family members there. It will be a fun way toward the end of the season to get to play for who is the best in the area.”