Sometimes it may have seemed to Emma Candelaria that the only indication she had a summer vacation at all this year was the sunshine, while suiting up and seeing action with not one, not two, but three club fast-pitch softball teams, as well as a couple of local co-ed slow-pitch squads.
"You do a lot of traveling-over the summer I go up to Grand Junction almost every weekend," she said, alluding to being a member of the Grand Junction Fusion (as well as the Farmington Venom) while preparing for her sophomore year at Bayfield High School. "A lot of traveling, going to practices and playing softball!"
Not much time for much else.
But there was a reason for all the road-time, a reason easily understandable to fellow BHS student/Durango High varsity fast-pitch player Brianne 'Bri' Marr.
"For the first three years it was pretty much constant losses," said Marr, a senior, alluding to her prep career prior to 2017. "But it was really great to have such a great group of girls this year."
A great group of girls which went great guns right out of the gate, stringing together a seven-game winning streak. One outing saw the Demons destroy 4A Colorado Springs Mitchell by a 32-0 margin.
"We definitely played teams that would have been more competitive for us last year," Marr said. "But for some reason we ended up with a really good team; we came out headstrong, started to win. So that was a neat experience; I've never played on a team-especially at DHS-that was a winning team."
"We really came together as a team, and I feel that really set the tone for the season," said Candelaria, who'd also played summer club ball for DHS. "Everybody had a great attitude and it was all fun. And (as the season progressed) we did play harder teams. But even though we lost, we kept our heads up, said 'We can get them next time,' and just kept fighting."
And though Durango would finish a last-place fifth in the SWL, the crew made sure to end the season on a high note. After being humbled by a combined 26-6 count in a home doubleheader by Grand Junction, 36-0 in two at G.J. Central and 41-18 in a pair at Fruita Monument, the Demons recovered from a 9-1 loss at home to Montrose and prevailed 9-8 in Game 2 of the season-ending twinbill.
"At the end we were able to pull it back again, so that was nice," said Marr, who estimated she'd first played any sort of ball back in kindergarten, long before moving to Bayfield around her sixth-grade year. "We were all super hyped-up! Pretty bummed about our first game - didn't work out quite as well as we wanted it to - but it was definitely an amazing experience."
Finishing 1-7 in league, the Demons still nearly broke even at 8-9-1 overall, with aggregate run totals - 203 for, 207 against - closely mirroring that mark as the program improved from last year's 3-14 overall, 0-8 SWL showing.
That was former Fort Lewis College star Missy Fundora's first year as head coach.
"I feel like our team has really progressed for the better," Candelaria said. "I mean, there's a lot better attitudes-everybody's in it for the game and not just to get out of school early or anything."
Individual numbers for the BHS-slash-DHS players were fairly reflective of that assessment.
Regularly used in rightfield defensively, but capable of playing all three outfield positions, Marr logged a .314 batting average, going 11-for-35 with six runs scored and five batted in. Primarily part of the JV team, junior Mikayla Barnes managed a strong .625 (5-for-8) average in a handful of varsity appearances, with two extra-base hits and six runs scored.
And whether used behind the plate or at the hot corner, Candelaria's extensive off-season paid dividends. Earning Second Team All-SWL status, she hit .483 (28-for-58), with ten extra-base knocks (two being homers), 28 runs scored and 24 driven in. She drew nine bases-on-balls and was also hit by three pitches-giving her more chances on the basepaths, where she stole a team-best 16 bags in 18 tries.
"Emma - that was really great," Marr said. "She's definitely a big part of our team."
"Last year when I came in I knew the competition was going to be a lot harder than in the previous years just playing travel ball," said Candelaria. "I was definitely excited and learned a lot from the upperclassmen and new coaches."
"I really like playing for Missy; she's probably one of the best I've learned from, really knows the game. She helps us understand how the competition's going to be and techniques we need to learn."
"My freshman year of high school I had my heart set on being a second baseman, actually, and eventually I met Missy," Marr recalled. "I'd never thought about being an outfielder before, but I'm pretty quick so Missy and I started working every day after practice so that I could become an outfielder."
"And my batting has changed tremendously over the past four years; I actually used to hit right-handed. Missy's also a slap-hitter, and because I'm quick they turned me into a slap-hitter too, which is where you hit the ball from the left-hand side, and there's a cute little step that's in there, gets you closer to first base so you get on base quicker. That was definitely a big change."
As was donning Durango red-and-white outside the classroom while repping Bayfield purple-and-gold daily in it.
"I know that there's been girls (from BHS) that played softball for DHS in the past, but I never knew any of them; they had graduated out by the time I made it," said Marr.
"I can't say that it's ever been very 'weird' to me, that I'm a Bayfield player that plays for Durango, but it's definitely really fun to wear my Bayfield shirts to softball practice or to wear my Durango jersey to Bayfield," she continued. "It's pretty funny to get the reaction from that."
"Sometimes it's weird, but you get used to it after a while," Candelaria concurred. "Me and Bri had played for Durango when we were younger, so we came up playing for the high school. And then Mikayla asked me like, 'I don't know if I'm going to play volleyball this year, should I try out for softball?' I was like, 'Yeah! That would be a really great opportunity!'"
Freshman Kiya Anderson also came out and made Durango's JV team, and the chance to play at either level is one the most decorated Wolverines-slash-Demons believe prospective players should explore.
"You're branching out to not only your school but to other schools," said Candelaria. "You start the first day of practice not really knowing anybody, and by the end of the season you're best friends."
"I'm sure that if we had a softball team in Bayfield we would have more interest," Marr said. "I have my Bayfield friends of course, and then I have my softball friends.from DHS. It's been difficult over the years to connect those two, but I'm definitely thankful I have friend groups in both areas."
MORE STREAK SPEAK: Under then-skipper John Bernazzani, Durango finished 9-10, 2-8 SWL in 2012-an effort capped by a four-game win streak and six victories in seven games. That season, then-senior Chane'l McCloskey and junior sister Sierra represented BHS on DHS' roster.
Helped by the elder McCloskey's work at second base, the Demons finished 12-8 overall in 2011-the last time Durango experienced the postseason and still the best year in program annals.