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Area climbers prep for final regular season meet of 2021

The American Scholastic Climbing League club teams from Vail Mountain School, Battle Mountain High School and Eagle Valley High School will ascend the climbing wall at Eagle Climbing and Fitness this Saturday for the third regular-season Western Slope Region climbing competition.

“We are super excited for the upcoming meet,” wrote Battle Mountain coach Eddie Farrell in an email earlier week. “All of the kids have been climbing hard in the off-season and these competitions are a fun way to show how all of their training has paid off.”

The Huskies’ Aiden Manning, who has been climbing from a young age and was fourth in the state competition as a sophomore in 2020 and 12th last season, has opened up the 2021-22 campaign with consecutive titles at the Carbondale bouldering event Nov. 13 and the Grand Valley mixed event Nov. 20.

“She is looking to keep that streak going,” Farrell stated.

Battle Mountain’s Sage Eaton and Nathan Rak get each other excited for the next climb at Monkey House in Carbondale.
Edward Farrell/Courtesy photo

“She’s an incredibly strong, very, very talented athlete,” echoed Larry Moore, the managing owner of the 3-year-old world-class climbing facility who is also a co-regional director in the Western Slope, one of four Colorado regions in the league.

Originally from Denver, Moore has been teaching climbing in the valley for 21 years and has helped many local athletes from the time they were 5 or 6 years old. He has also been an active rock climber outside of his gym, pioneering several routes in the Lime Creek area. His extensive background hosting events and coaching athletes in USA Climbing competitions has not diminished his enthusiasm for the distinct climbing league concept.

“The ASCL is a very inclusive league,” he said earlier this week. “The idea is kind of just to introduce people to the sport, get them involved, get in and experience, (and) take them to the competitive realm at whatever speed and level they are comfortable with.”

Before the formal establishment of the league, no arena existed for young people not ready to commit to the intensity level of the USA Climbing circuit. In speaking of the league’s creation, Moore said the vision was “more about fun and the experience of climbing than necessarily all about the competition.”

The USA Climbing contests all three sport climbing events — bouldering during the fall, and lead and speed climbing during the spring. The ASCL contests bouldering and rope climbing, but has no speed climbing element. Moore’s facility is able to host both formats at once, which means he’ll be busy. “We’ll have 20 boulder problems in the competition and 20 rope climbs in the competition,” he said about Saturday’s meet.

Battle Mountain’s Aiden Manning gets ready to make the next move at Monkey House in Carbondale.
Edward Farrell/Courtesy photo.

The event is the third of seven regular-season meets, with teams eyeing both the regional championship in Eagle on Feb. 5 and the state championship in Broomfield on Feb. 26. Moore, whose wife Courtney now also runs the gym after starting the high school team at Battle Mountain when she worked there as a teacher, has hosted the state championship the previous two years. In 2022, it will be the second region meet the young business has put on.

“The gym’s only been open for three years,” he said. “We’ve been super active in hosting events; bringing the sport to high schoolers.”

On the team side, Colorado Rocky Mountain School, which was third in the girl’s team scoring and second in the boy’s team scoring at the Varsity State Championship last May, will be competing in the second wave of action for those who wish to make the event a full-day affair.

Other than Manning, Battle Mountain fans should keep their eyes on Sage Eaton, a 10th place state finisher in 2021. Farrell is also excited about the boys, who are led by Nicholas Olsen.

“The boy’s team is strong and improving every day,” he stated.

“Many of the climbers have only started within the last few years, but are already climbing at impressive levels.”

Eagle Valley is led by Reese Manley, who placed third last week at the Grand Valley mixed event. Moore, who sees both squads practice Wednesday nights, said Manley is relatively new to the sport, but progressing quickly. “She’s really getting into her stride and doing super well.”

Eagle Climbing + Fitness owner/operator Larry Moore addresses crowds at the American Scholastic Climbing League High School State Championships last spring.
John LaConte/Vail Daily

The fact that both schools — arch rivals in every sport — practice together, is a demonstration of the camaraderie that Moore believes makes climbing so unique.

“Climbing is very hard — the harder you climb the harder it gets,” he said. “It’s by far the most supportive environment of any sport I’ve ever been a part of. Whatever level you’re at, we’re all trying hard, we’re all struggling, we all need support, the guidance from those around us. It’s an incredibly supportive community.”

It’s a theme he believes in enough to embed into the mission statement of his own company.

“The motto of our gym is ‘building strength in our community,’ because it’s what we do,” Moore said. “Not just on a physical realm, but also on the social aspects of supporting and building each other up.”

Participation in the sport transcends first ascensions, too.

“Climbing is an incredible sport for the development of people of all ages but particularly children,” he said.

“There is so much that goes into climbing that translates to life lessons that apply to school, relationships, future jobs, you name it, because you’re constantly problem solving, working on trust and communication with your partners and coaches.”

ASCL Western Slope Regular Season Competition #3 at Eagle Climbing + Fitness

Times:

Wave 1 – 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. — Ridgway, Silverton, Aspen, Basalt, Summit, Vail Mountain School, Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley

Wave 2 – 1-4 p.m. — Colorado Rocky Mountain School, Gunnison, Montrose, Norwood

2021-2022 Prep Winter Preview: Nordic Skiing

While Thanksgiving week means being with family, stuffing our faces with turkey, and falling asleep watching the Lions lose again, for Nordic skiers, this week is traditionally the highest volume training block. High school, club and NCAA teams are funneled to West Yellowstone, Mont Saint-Anne and Crested Butte to log their K’s and prepare for another long season.

If you don’t have the itch to classic stride yet, hopefully our rundown of the areas prep programs will get you to finally scrape off your summer storage wax.

CHSSL

The Colorado High School Ski League (CHSSL) is what VMS, Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley compete in, with individuals earning points throughout the year at specific state qualifier races.

CHSSL is broken up into three divisions: West, East and North.

The teams are listed below:

West

  • Vail Mountain School
  • Battle Mountain
  • Eagle Valley
  • Aspen
  • Colorado Rocky Mountain School

East

  • Summit
  • Evergreen
  • Nederland
  • Clear Creek
  • Lake County

North

  • Steamboat
  • Poudre
  • Middle Park

Each division has a race or two which is a “Division Race,” and does not count for state qualifying purposes. Valley teams are at Aspen High School Jan. 8 for a division skate race.

Three League races – which all teams are invited to – will determine who competes at the Feb. 17-18 State Championships at Snow Mountain Ranch. The CHSSL Skimeister Championships – for athletes who compete in both alpine and Nordic events – is March 1 at Howelson Hill.

Schedule

  • Division Race: Saturday, January 8, 2022: Skate Race at Snowmass
  • League Race: Saturday, January 22, 2022: Skate race at Gold Run Nordic Center in Breckenridge
  • League Race: Saturday, January 29, 2022: Classic and Skate Race at Malloit Park in Minturn
  • League Race (not a state qualifier race) Saturday, February 5, 2022: Relay race (3 person) at CMC Timberline Campus in Leadville
  • League Race: Saturday, February 12, 2022: Classic race at Steamboat Springs Nordic Touring Center
  • Thursday/Friday, February 17-18, 2022: State Meet at Snow Mountain Ranch in Granby
  • Tuesday, March 1, 2022: Skimeister State Championships, Howelson Hill, Steamboat

According to CHSSL documents to qualify for the state championships for Nordic in either classic or freestyle, a skier needs to be both eligible and qualified. Eligible means that a skier must race in and finish at least 2 races in that discipline. These races may be an individual race or a relay in which the skier competes in that discipline. Qualified means that in at least one state qualifier race from that discipline the racer must finish in the top 45% of the finishing field.

Each school is guaranteed a minimum of three skiers in each discipline. If a team does not have three student-athletes who meet the above qualifying requirement, the school may enter as many eligible skiers as necessary to get to three competitors in a discipline.

2021 State Meet Team Results (alpine and Nordic scores are combined)

Boys: 1. Aspen 2. Battle Mountain 3. Middle Park 4. Vail Mountain School

Girls: 1. Aspen 2. Summit 3. Middle Park 4. Vail Mountain School

2021 State Meet Men’s Nordic Results

  1. Aspen 338
  2. Eagle Valley 301
  3. Vail Mountain School 291
  4. Middle Park 291
  5. Evergreen 281
  6. Battle Mountain 279
  7. Steamboat 264
  8. Lake County 250
  9. Summit 228
  10. Poudre 202
  11. Nederland 172
  12. Clear Creek 153
  13. CRMS 34
  14. Durango 0
  15. Platte Canyon 0
  16. Ridgeview 0

2021 State Meet Women’s Nordic Results

  1. Aspen 333
  2. Summit 301
  3. Lake County 296
  4. Middle Park 286
  5. Vail Mountain School 261
  6. CRMS 259
  7. Steamboat 254
  8. Battle Mountain 249
  9. Poudre 217
  10. Eagle Valley 214
  11. Evergreen 203
  12. Nederland 187
  13. Clear Creek 139
  14. Durango 0
  15. Platte Canyon 0

Battle Mountain High School

The Battle Mountain boy’s 2021 2nd place state championship team.
Jeff Apps/Courtesy photo
Jeff Apps hopes to continue focusing on fun while achieving lofty goals for 2022.
Jeff Apps/Courtesy photo

2020-2021: Boys – 2nd at State; Girls – 7th at State

Who’s gone?

Ari Dennis, Garret Moehring, and Frances Farrell

Who’s back?

“For the boys, we are looking at a strong team of very good Nordic skiers. We had a minimal number of boys graduate this past year. For the girls, we are building from the past few year, when we had a very strong team of seniors. The girls are getting stronger and getting ready for the positive Nordic race season.” – Coach Jeff Apps

Storyline

For the past five-plus years, it has been a battle between Battle Mountain and Aspen for the state title. For the Jeff Apps led crew, the focus will be on skiing their very best and shooting for a similar outcome. “A lot of things have to come together to make this happen,” he wrote in an email. “We need both a strong Nordic and alpine team.”

The team started practicing on November 1, and as Nike Southwest Regions has concluded, will inherit a group of aerobic monsters in the coming week. “These athletes transition to Nordic in the winter months to stay fit for the spring track and field season,” he wrote.

Although Middaugh considers himself a runner and mountain biker first, his true calling might be Nordic skiing, where he placed 4th overall in the state classic race.

They are also bringing back a couple of coaches in Christian Apps and Innes Isom and Lisa Isom. The Isom’s were teaching in Myanmar for the past two years.

“Very happy that they both are back,” said Jeff Apps. “Coaching Team Apps and Isom squared!”

Key race

Maloit Park, Jan. 29 – Fans can see how both techniques are done as a morning classic will be followed by a skate race in Minturn. “It should be a good indicator to see how the teams will do in February,” said Apps.

Eagle Valley High School

Who’s Gone?

Caitlyn Weathers, Cole Weathers, Clay Humphries, Nathan Moody, Aiden Duffy

Who’s Back?

Samantha Blair, Avan Bergsten, Emma Bergsten, Justine St. John, Brynn Moody, Ferguson St. John, Lukas Bergsten

Storyline

Samantha Blair was the top finisher at state for the Devils last season (21st in the 3k skate and 14th in the 5k classic). Ava Bergsten, Emma Bergsten, Justine St. John, and Brynn Moody, were youngsters at the state meet last year and will enter 2022 looking to improve.

On the boy’s side, Eagle Valley has a lot to be excited about. After placing second in the Nordic rankings last year, the Devils return their top two skiers and will attempt to take down perennial power Aspen on Feb. 17-18.

With Aspen’s Taiga Moore gone, Ferguson St. John is the highest returning skate and classic ski finisher from 2021. Both St. John and Lukas Bergsten are coming off of successful cross-country seasons which wrapped up at Nike Southwest Regions last week. The Devils will miss some depth with the loss of Aiden Duffy and Nathan Moody, but perhaps St. John and Bergsten can convince aerobic monster Jake Drever, the number one distance runner at Eagle Valley, to try the skinny skis and fill out the roster.

Vail Mountain School

2020-2021

Who’s gone?

Elliot Pribramsky, Quinn Kelley, Will Brown, Alexander Viola

Who’s back?

Luke Huml, Connor Cooley, Cyrus Creasy, Will Brunner, Charlotte Johnson, Cami Johnson, Tegan Sharfstein

Storyline

As a result of a vote to move the CHSSA state meet to the 17th and 18th of February, the same weekend as the Maloit Park Rocky Mountain Nordic club races (a key race for determining Junior Nationals spots), several Vail Mountain School athletes chose to sit out the high school schedule this season. Shawn Ellenbaum’s crew will be missing Izzy Glakin, Cole Flashner and Mason Cruz-Abrahms as a result of the unfortunate scheduling conflict.

“With those skiers out we still have a small but competitive force on the boys side and the girls will look to enjoy the season with a focus on having fun senior year and looking forward to the Skimeister competition,” he wrote.

“Hopefully next season the club and HS schedule will be back to normal allowing all of our athletes to return for a dramatic senior year.”

Key meet

March 1 – Skimeister Championships – the full day of Nordic and alpine competition at Howelson Hill in Steamboat Springs is the old-fashioned contest to see who is truly the best all-around skier. “It is the race I look forward to the most as a coach,” Ellenbaum said.

Ski and Snowboard Club Vail

Local U16 Reiner Schmidt pushes himself up a climb at a Nordic Junior Invitational Race hosted by Ski & Snowboard Club Vail at Maloit Park last year. Schmidt returns to race for SSCV in 2022.
Courtesy photo

Schedule

  1. Dec. 18-19 – AVSC Trails, Aspen
  2. Jan. 21-22 – Snow Mountain Ranch, Granby
  3. Feb. 5-6 – Frisco Nordic Center, Frisco
  4. Feb. 19-20 – Maloit Park, Minturn
  5. Mar. 7-12 – Junior Nationals – Minneapolis, MN

2021 Results: “Last year we were able to offer a really robust calendar for local and regional level racing bringing teams together from the county for our local Town Series, the state for our divisional races and from the Western Region for a championship series of races at Soldier Hollow in Utah.” – Head coach Eric Pepper

Who’s gone?

“We graduated 4 seniors who had been with the program for a long time who all have gone on to ski in college. So, that has created some space for others to step into both athletically and in leadership roles.” – Pepper

Who’s back?

“We have a strong team returning for this season with a nice blend of experienced U20s and U18s as well as some U16s who are looking to experience what a season of a more full racing calendar and level of competition will look like.” – Pepper

Storyline

Ski and Snowboard Club Vail does not compete in the CHSSL competitions, but instead targets the regional and national club competitions. Some of his athletes, such as newcomers Rose and Adele Horning, will compete for CHSSL glory (Lake County for the Leadville-based sisters) while simultaneously earning points to make the Rocky Mountain Nordic’s Junior National squad. Most of SSCV’s athletes, however, will simply focus on the Rocky Mountain Division JNQ (Junior National Qualifiers) events.

While last season included a robust regional schedule, Pepper is excited for the return of national level competitions in 2022.

“Plans at this time include a full return to national racing so we have many of our program members looking forward to Senior National Championships at Soldier Hollow, Utah in January and Junior National Championships in Minneapolis, Minnesota in March,” he said.

SSCV is headed for an early race experience in West Yellowstone this weekend, where many pro, collegiate, and club teams across the country have congregated to train and race. As of this writing, no word has been confirmed on whether a lack of snow has prevented those FIS races from being run. Either way, Pepper said the fitness is where it needs to be.

“We have had a really good summer and fall of dryland training and are looking forward to transitioning to on snow training with an eye on racing and having the opportunity to test out what we have learned,” he said.

Key meet

As members of the Rocky Mountain Division, the season is largely structured around the four weekends that serve as qualifying events for Junior Nationals in Minneapolis in March. The final of those events is scheduled for Feb. 19-20 at Maloit Park.

 

Samantha Blair is Vail Daily’s Best Fall Season Athlete

Samantha Blair at her official signing day with NAU on Nov. 16
Melinda Brandt/Courtesy photo

For Samantha Blair, living by the adage: “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well,” is foundational to all aspects of life. “If you don’t do everything with 110% effort, then is it even worth doing?” she rhetorically asked in an email earlier this week. The proverb is multifaceted in her case. Of course, there is the sheer athletic range encompassing the running component of her “doing.” Capable of 46-seconds in the 300 hurdles — an event coach Charlie Janssen says she “seldom practices” — and 17:09 cross-country 5Ks, plus qualifying for Junior World Mountain Trail championships (twice, to be precise), Blair is a once in a generation talent. More poignant, however, is her desire for excellence to permeate her character and saturate those aspects of life not seen by a camera, honored with a trophy or recorded by a stopwatch.

“Samantha’s sportsmanship is really amazing,” her dad Steve glowingly articulated over the phone last week.

“After every race, she stays at the finish line — it doesn’t matter if she finishes fifth or first — she’ll stay at the finish line and give everybody high fives. That’s always fun to watch,” her mom, a 2021 Leadville 100 trail run finisher and 2012 USATF Colorado 25k trail champion, echoed.

It’s a trait she picked up on individually, but a blessing felt corporately. If there is something unanimously ascribed to Blair — by coaches, opponents and family — it is that she is both tenaciously competitive and genuinely kind. Her gifts are less about pure speed — which she possesses — and more about indomitable resilience, unquenchable intrinsic motivation and timeless class. To say it another way: she is what we sportswriters would call an all-timer.

While this journalist has only been lucky enough to cover Blair’s exploit’s for half of a season, this valley has been the recipient of a sterling childhood sensation for the past half-decade; more if you count all those middle school titles. Still, I’ve followed sports long enough to know when success deserves recognition, and thus, Samantha Blair is deservingly the Vail Daily Fall Prep Athlete of the Year.

Samantha Blair at a river crossing in Villa La Angostura, Argentina, during the Junior World Mountain Running Championships in 2019.
Steve Blair/Courtesy photo

Many Talents

To listen to someone describe Blair requires about as much verbose versatility as her Swiss Army knife-like talent. “Relentless, gritty, kind and a jokester,” said Eagle Valley head coach Melinda Brandt when asked to describe her star pupil. “I would describe my sister as hard-working, fun-loving, and adventurous,” said older sister Joslin, the 2018 World Mountain Running Association U18 World Champion and current NCAA Division I athlete at Vanderbilt. Even coaches who compete against Blair describe her versatility — the ability to go from star to sideline supporter — in a similar vein.

“Sam Blair has been incredible to watch over the years. Her combination of tenacious and fierce competition, with genuine kindness and care for others is one that I haven’t seen much in my coaching career. She pulls off both sides incredibly well,” wrote Battle Mountain coach Rob Parish.

Of course, as experienced as Parish is with the finer points of running talent, it’s hard for the Husky coach to stop without gushing over the nuts and bolts of her athletic prowess, too. “She also seems to have just about every event and distance in her bag,” he continued. “Her versatility is amazing. I often say to our coaches and athletes that ‘the usual rules of fatigue don’t apply to Sam, or her sister for that matter.'”

Parish figured that out over several seasons of competing against the two. Janssen learned it on day one.

“They’re going to be pretty dangerous.”

Charlie Janssen’s first encounter with Samantha Blair was in May of 2016, after the conclusion of the track season. Myriah Blair had brought her eighth and sixth grade daughters, Joslin and Sam, to the track to meet their future high school coach. She figured they would need to get acquainted eventually. What better way than having Janssen run them through a tune-up for an upcoming Hershey track meet in Pennsylvania?

“I was like, ‘well, these are middle school girls that I’m meeting for the first time,” Janssen recalled thinking that day. ”But they’re Myriah Blair’s kids — I bet I can put them through the wringer. Let’s see how they hang.”

After 10×200 meters in 32-34 seconds-a-pop, which left both athletes bent over heaving for their lives, and still hungry for more, Janssen’s admiration for their efforts quickly metamorphosed into salivation surrounding their potentials. “I was just like, ‘man, they’re going to be pretty dangerous,” Janssen said.

Ironically, the girls didn’t end up going to the meet because of a scheduling conflict. “So they just went through this really painful workout, just for fun,” Janssen said. “That was literally the very first day I had ever met them.” In some ways, the latter anecdote paints a clearer picture than the former: Blair is someone who exudes passionate rigor and practices unfettered resilience for the sheer joy of the chase.

Two years later, Joslin was a state champion in the 1600 meters. That fall, Sam improved upon her 12th place finish at the Middle School State cross-country championships, finishing in sixth. The next year, she won the whole thing, coming from behind and passing four girls in the final 400 meters. The gritty, into the wind comeback sprint would become somewhat of a trademark.

Joslin remembered one track race in elementary school in particular. “She dove across the line to win the race. I feel like it is that same spirit that has made her so successful throughout her high school career,” the elder sister wrote.

One of her diving moments even roped in another local prep endurance star. At the two-mile middle school home cross country invite, Blair caught and out-leaned Sullivan Middaugh to claim the overall win. As someone who raced in the same middle school races as Fargo’s Laura Roesler, the most decorated Oregon Duck in history and a 22-time state champion running 53-second 400s and 2:03 800s as an eighth grader, I felt uniquely positioned to ask Sullivan if he was disappointed in losing to a girl or simply honored to have raced such a precocious talent. “A little bit of both,” he laughed, vividly recalling the moment with perhaps a slight, innocently competitive doubt as to exactly who out-leaned who.

In her final Colorado state meet, she dug deep again, making up a substantial gap on Niwot star Mia Prok in the final 500 meters, nipping her at the line.

“State this year was an excellent display of her grit to fight til the end,” said Melinda Brandt, who is the head coach at Eagle Valley (Janssen is the assistant as well as the distance track coach). The moment is one of Blair’s parents’ proudest. “Just the grit there, to run her down and finish how she did and not give up — that’s pretty amazing,” Myriah said.

Joslin and Samantha enjoy a “color run” at practice.
Melinda Brandt/Courtesy photo

While the Blairs have running in their blood, the parents weren’t the type to force their kids into doing mile repeats after watching Nickelodeon.

Rather, they believed allowing their kids to chart their own athletic journey would ensure an authentic passion and ultimately, the best results. “Yeah, I think that philosophy has been good for us — to kind of let them explore things,” Steve, a former decathlete at Northern Colorado, said. “From my perspective, if a kid is not passionate about something, they’re probably not going to be that successful at it.”

Sam did hockey, soccer, basketball, tennis and skiing before honing in on running. Growing up, Blair tracked her fit and competitive parents and older sister up 14ers and across the Grand Canyon. Chasing Joslin was something she — and her coaches — believe had a huge impact on her development.

“She came in her freshmen year — she was just an absurd competitor,” said Janssen, who went on to explain he felt much of that toughness came from striving to keep up with Joslin. Competere — the Latin root for competition — means to strive together, and the sister act embodied it perfectly, according to the younger. “Sure, it definitely motivated me because I wanted to be as fast or faster than her,” she said. “Just some good old sibling rivalry.”

A rivalry well cherished.

“Growing up with my sister was so much fun. I had a built-in best friend and training partner,” Samantha said.

“My sister not only taught me but showed me the power of hard work and determination. She has always been someone that I look up to, and one of my biggest idols. Whenever we raced together, she pushed me as hard as I could go every step of the way.”

Even though she has a knack for coming from behind in races, the narrative seems unlikely as a broader theme for Blair’s life. But, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. In overcoming disappointments, Brandt believes a better theme might be “Relentless.” In eighth grade, she suffered a spiral femur fracture playing soccer in gym class, an injury that Janssen said was inches from being career-threatening. Entering her senior campaign, Brandt said of the six races contested, only three of them went as planned.

“Most people think her journey has been a perfect upward trajectory of success, but there have been many bumps along the way,” she said.

Even when things aren’t perfect and expectations are heavy, Blair has the ability to shoulder it while simultaneously leading her teammates and being an exemplary role model. The unique blend of kindness and responsibility even permeates across to the boys’ team.

“She is great at pulling her own weight when the team is down, didn’t have a good race, or is scared going into a race,” said Jake Drever, the fastest runner on the Eagle Valley boy’s team. Drever and Blair are headed to the Running Lane Nationals on Dec. 4, which will feature the fastest runners in the country. Drever knows that the loaded field won’t shake his teammate. “When she sees competition, she knows she’s ready to race.”

Behind the fearless exterior is a person who is genuine and relational. More extroverted than introverted, according to her parents, her sister described her by saying, “Everyone knows her — loves her.” It is no surprise that she connects with the Drever’s up front and those at the back of the pack, too.

“She is kind and caring to her teammates, something that is sometimes lacking in elite athletes at the younger level,” Brandt said.

Samantha and her sister Joslin at the start of the 2019 Junior World Mountain Running Championships. Samantha qualified in 2020 as well.
Steve Blair/Courtesy photo

Untapped potential

At the scholastic level, the casual fan knows Samantha Blair is fast. The astute endurance follower, however, sees untapped potential in a wide variety of events. Her parents think eventually the mountains might be her final landing spot. In recalling her experience at the Mountain Running World Championships in Argentina in 2019, Steve said, “That was pretty darn adventurous, and Sam definitely thrives in that atmosphere for sure — the gnarlier the better.” It might run in her genes, too. Myriah nearly made the U.S. senior national mountain team in 2011.

For the analytical Janssen, who can spout off everything from splits during a random mid-April workout in 2017 to the laundry list of accolades his pupil has achieved going back to seventh grade, the steeplechase presents a wild frontier. “She’s nasty. Her form is amazing,” he excitedly affirmed. “2k (high school distance for the event; it moves up to 3k at the collegiate and international levels) steeple — she would demolish people.”

The enterprising coach built a steeple barrier and had Blair practicing water jumps into a sand pit last spring, hoping to land in a post-season race. Unfortunately, Blair was never given the chance to compete in the rarely contested — at the prep level — event.

Nonetheless, the combination of hurdle form, explosive speed, cross-country strength and the mountain endurance/adventurous attribute which so often characterizes the world’s best steeplers (3-time NCAA champion Allie Ostrander and former University of Utah runner Grayson Murphy, a World Trail champion, come to mind off the bat), seems evidence enough that Blair is in line to enter the pantheon of great Colorado-born steeple chasers, from Jenny Simpson to Emma Coburn to the valley’s own Val Constien.

“I think she has a massive reservoir of untapped potential in the steeplechase. I think she would make an excellent 1,500 runner, but she’s also going to be pretty nasty running a 6K, too,” Janssen predicted, the range of ability forcing him to strain to find the right event for the future Northern Arizona student-athlete.

The opportunity to foster her running at a reputable school and also experiment with different events is something everyone on Team Blair is excited about. She received offers from Boston University, Alabama, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Cal-Berkeley, Northern Arizona and Syracuse, among others.

“Ultimately I wanted her to be the governor of her choice,” Janssen stated when asked if he offered any opinions to the young student-athlete. Ultimately, Janssen believes it came down to the commitment of the NAU coaches and the unity, culture and competitiveness of the team. “I was definitely on board with the NAU decision.”

Striving for success in all aspects

Wherever Blair ends up taking her running, expect her to compete, be tough and have fun. And … probably be winning. For Blair, however, running transcends victories. “My purpose in running is to challenge myself to be the best that I can be while enjoying the sport and community it creates,” she said.

Affectionate devotion is something Blair said Janssen has taught the team to apply to their pursuits. “If you’re passionate about what you do, then you will never work a day of your life,” she said about his lesson, noting that Janssen himself is the best example.

Two other lessons that Janssen has rubbed off on the young athlete seem appropriate to conclude with.

“Stay true to yourself and embrace who you are,” she wrote in listing her coach’s advice. “Finally, he taught me that the challenges and hardships that we face every day don’t define us. It’s how we deal with and react to these hardships that shape us into the person we are. Each and every day, Janssen has pushed me to be my best in every single aspect of my life.”

It’s hard to imagine trying to “one-up“ the scholastic accomplishments of Samantha Blair. Yet, her words offer wisdom for us all. The second-grader nervously pondering the decision to someday join track because she admired Sammy Blair’s photo in the paper; the master athlete discouraged over another injury or personal worst; even Blair herself should heed her own advice. It isn’t about out-doing. If anything, it’s about out-leaning … breaking the tape in front of the previously known best version of yourself. It’s about being the best you can be at every aspect of life.

“It’s been great to watch her career, and often when she is way out in front of our group, I find myself cheering for her loudly!” said Parish about the longtime Husky nemesis. Whether it’s gunning down Courtney Dauwalter at the next Leadville 100 or lining up with Val Constien at the 2024 Olympic Steeplechase trials — or both — we’ll be cheering, too.

Blair navigating the Penrose state championship course for the first time in 2018.
Melinda Brandt/Courtesy photo

Fall Prep Sports Awards

Between Eagle Valley, Battle Mountain, Vail Christian, and Vail Mountain School, there are many fine athletes, teams and coaches. If time allowed for a feature on all of them, I’d do it. Nevertheless, here is just a snapshot of memorable people and moments from the 2021 fall season.

Fall Athlete of the Year Honorable Mentions

  • Sullivan Middaugh, Battle Mountain cross-country
  • Nick Kirwood, Vail Mountain soccer
  • Gracie Allen, Vail Christian volleyball
  • Connor Downey, Vail Christian golf
“Gracie Allen is one of the best setters that I have ever coached in 25 years,” said Adina Petersmeyer, head coach for Vail Christian.
Adina Petersmeyer/Courtesy photo
Vail Mountain School's Nick Kirwood amazed this fall and will continue to do so on the hill for SSCV’s alpine team.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

Best Game: Battle Mountain comes back to upset Eagle Valley 21-20

A comeback, an underdog, a flea-flicker, and a student section rushing the field in celebration — what more could you ask for? It might have stung for Eagle Valley, but even Devil’s fans got their money’s worth on this fall night of fantastic football.

Best Team: Vail Christian Football

The team that recruited a substantial portion of their lineup from the hallways of the private school a year ago entered the 2021 playoffs undefeated. This team did things the right way all year. They combined their class with competitiveness all the way through their playoff defeat at the hands of Sanford.

Coach of the Year: David Cope, Battle Mountain soccer

The tough schedule didn’t lead to a pretty record, but it did lead to a battle tested squad that made a run to the state semi-finals after demolishing TCA (16-1 at the time) 4-0 in Colorado Springs. Credit Cope with the culture of excellence and another fantastic group of Huskies.

A year after taking third in 3A, Vail Christian’s Connor Downey won the state golf title Tuesday at windy Spring Valley Golf Club in Elizabeth.
CHSAANow.com/Courtesy photo

Best Moment: Connor Downey wins 3A state golf title

Downey overcame a two-shot deficit going into the second day to claim the title.

Vail Valley Running Club wins Girls Small School Nike Regional

Lindsey Kiehl and Lindsey Whitton went 1-2, running blistering times of 18:23 and 18:30, respectively, to lead the Vail Valley (Battle Mountain) girls to a small school division Nike Southwest Regional team title. Presley Smith snuck in the top ten as well with a 19:20. The team was running without their top runner, Milaina Almonte, who ran in the championship race, finishing in 27th with an 18:12.

“They were fantastic,” said head coach Rob Parish.

If one places the Vail Valley girls’ times in the championship race, they would have placed.

“They had the best conditions — 8 o’clock,” noted Parish, identifying the difference in temperature between the small school race and the afternoon championship races.

In the medium school division, Jordan Neifert ran 19:09 to place 7th overall for Eagle Valley Track Club (Eagle Valley High School). Jake Drever set a personal best with a 15:55 to nab 8th place in the boys medium school division, which had 260 runners.

Drever went off script from his scheduled 5:04 pace, electing to stay with the top group and compete. “I didn’t want to lose that front pack,” he said. He admitted after the race that he paid for the 4:53 opening clip in the second and third mile, but is encouraged knowing what could still come at Running Lane Nationals on Dec. 4. “I just need to remember in Alabama to not take it out way too fast,” he said.

The ambitious junior is enjoying his breakout season, and is hoping to run in the 15:30s or faster at his final race.

“I’m going to push a little bit differently, but I still think I have a lot to give,” he said definitively.

In the boys championship race, Vail Valley placed 11th as a team but was just 12 points out of 8th place. Sullivan Middaugh led the way with a new career best time of 15:26.21. Porter Middaugh finished in 15:34 and Will Brunner finished in 75th but will have to wait for his junior season to go under 16, as he finished in 16:00.33.

“They were very competitive. You know, that’s what the big goal was,” Parish said.

Samantha Blair finished in 10th place in the girls championship race in 17:46. Ella Hagen of Summit High School moved up 11 places in the second half of the race to finish in 15th in 17:53, rounding out the local contingent.

“Sammy came back with a pretty monster last 1k,” coach Charlie Janssen said. “She had a lot of grit and fight left, despite not feeling her best.”

Blair earned 2nd team All-Region honors with the performance.

“Really proud of everyone’s efforts all around today.”

Return to Regions

Forgive me if using the “best team in years,” line to promote Vail valley prep cross-country teams sounds like a broken record. From Blair-squared — Joslin and now Sam — at Eagle Valley to Val and Liz Constien up through the brothers Middaugh at Battle Mountain, it seems like both programs have firmly established their reputation for consistently churning out national talent. This morning, both squads will compete at the Nike Southwest Regional cross-country championships in Tempe, Arizona. And, as in year’s past, they are, to put it simply, pretty good.

For Rob Parish’s harriers, the secret to peaking for this late November post-season opportunity, which comes three weeks after the CHSSA state meet, was taking advantage of the COVID-delayed track season of 2021.

“Do you start up cross country right after track?” Parish rhetorically asked about the predicament of teams who finished their track seasons well into June instead of the typical mid-May conclusion.

“I made a conscious decision to go with the slow play, and I think it went well.”

The Husky’s top runners started their cross country campaigns in late July instead of early June.

“I didn’t want them to finish track and be totally blown,” Parish said. The approach has his athletes feeling fresh and fit as they seek to prolong the precarious peak endurance athletes work all year to enjoy.

“I’m feeling good,” said junior Milaina Almonte, the lone Husky in the championship race. NXR has a small school (schools with less than 1,000 students), two medium (1,000-1,500 students), and two large (greater than 1,500 students) school divisions on tap for Saturday, in addition to the exclusive championship division which features the top 22 schools and 45 individuals in the region, made up of teams from Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona.

“I’ve had some pretty good workouts recently,” she said.

The Battle Mountain women have had an inspirational season.

“We’re really excited for the girls,” Parish said. “They were just broken this summer — mentally and physically — and they’ve really rallied to the cause. They’ve gotten their heads and minds and bodies around being a competitive team. It’s awesome.”

Parish wanted all of his girls in the championship race, but the only athlete accepted was Almonte, who is looking to break her 18:27 personal best. The rest of the team, mostly sophomores, understand the situation, even though they would have liked to have been in the championship race, too. “They’ve dealt with it really well,” said Parish, who said the ladies still have the potential to win the small school race, even without their top runner, and are excited about the challenge.

They also recognize their teammate’s collegiate aspirations. “They know that this is the next step and that if she’s (Almonte) in, she’s got to take it,” Parish said. “So, they’re positive about that.”

Sullivan Middaugh will have to hold off his younger brother, seen trailing in this photo from the CHSSA region meet in October, one more time in 2021.
Rob Parish/Courtesy photo

On the boy’s side, Parish will lead a team into the championship race for the first time since 2014, when the Huskies were 30th out of 30 teams. This year’s crew will likely improve upon the placement. Nike has canceled their national meet, a move Parish finds odd, considering the regional events will have thousands more fans and athletes than the exclusive national meet. Normally, the top two teams at each region, plus four at-large bids (across the whole country) automatically qualify for nationals. With six of the top 10 teams in the nation residing in the Southwest region, it would have been a tough ask for the Huskies to qualify anyway. “Top seven is the goal,” Parish said.

“It will be really fun for them to just race the top teams in the country.”

It will also be the last chance for Porter Middaugh to take down his older brother, Sullivan, in a prep race. If he does, don’t expect the driven sophomore to stop climbing. “Probably not!” he laughed when asked if he would retire and go out on top in the family race.

“It’s definitely different from him where I’m chasing him,” he said about competing alongside his kin. “So, a lot of motivation, within the race, just to stay on him. But yeah, never afraid to beat him at the end — I’m not going to hold back,” he said with a chuckle.

Both brothers have cherished the unique opportunity to chase high goals together. “It’s super fun to have a brother on the team,” Sullivan said.

“He pushes me; he’s always really close to me. I don’t want him to beat me, so it’s good competition to have on the team.”

Their relationship has fostered a level of intrinsic motivation to leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of excellence.

“I think we both really push each other to do well at practice — stretch, do all the little things — I think we help each other,” said Sullivan while Porter nodded in agreement.

The Middaughs have had company in workouts, especially from sophomore Will Brunner, an emerging third runner whom Parish said has been in lockstep with both Porter and Sullivan in every speed session. “I’m hoping for 15:30-15:40,” Brunner purposed. Right behind him will be Jorge Sinoloa, another sophomore who was only five seconds behind Brunner at the state meet. Sinoloa is targeting a sub-16 time as well.

“They’re mostly healthy, we haven’t run a lot of fast courses, and they’re peaking,” Parish said, contrasting his team with many of the top Colorado teams that may be fatigued from chasing fast times at notoriously quick courses such as the Desert Twilight or Liberty Bell invite. While Parish is against toting athletes to lower elevations throughout the season, he knows his runners are locked and loaded, and ready to be drowning in oxygen as they descend from 7,700 feet. “It’s like being shot out of a cannon,” he said.

“We’re excited to race,” the elder Middaugh said.

Even though both teams will be chasing fast times, much of the enjoyment comes from the extra-curriculars which take place on the trip.

“We have a good prank system we all kind of do to each other — coaches, kids, guys, girls,” Kaden Williams, seeking a sub-16:10 time, said when asked what his favorite part of the trip was. Williams, a senior, will also benefit from the college visits to Arizona State on Friday and Northern Arizona University on Sunday.

“I just really believe — it’s how I live my life — we’re going to squeeze every dollar. We’re spending all this money and time to go down there. It’s going to be a fun race and trip, but we’re going to squeeze the most out of it,” Parish said about the itinerary. The college experience is important to Parish.

“A lot of these kids haven’t done a major college tour,” he said. The ASU tour will be led by a former BMHS athlete who was swayed to become a Sun Devil from a similar trip.

“Even if they aren’t going to go to Arizona State or NAU, they’re going to see what’s it like to be in college and what it’s like to potentially be a student athlete,” the coach said.

Samantha Blair, who clipped Mia Prok at the line at the 4A state cross-country meet three weeks ago, will get another shot at the Niwot women, the No. 2 team in the nation, in Tempe this afternoon.
Melinda Brandt/Courtesy photo

Drever and Blair lead Eagle Valley contingent

Mentioning NAU is a timely transition to speaking about the Eagle Valley squads heading to Tempe. On Tuesday, Samantha Blair committed to a Flagstaff-based collegiate career with the nearby Lumberjacks. “I chose NAU because I really enjoyed the team, the coaches, the culture and Flagstaff!” wrote Blair in an email.

Blair’s best finish at NXR came in 2019 when she placed 3rd overall. She finished 25th at the national meet in Portland that year, but has been robbed yet again of a repeat opportunity. She and junior Jake Drever are targeting the Garmin Running Lane national meet Dec. 4 in Huntsville, Alabama, as a replacement. The race rose to prominence as the defacto “COVID-nationals” in 2020, and the 2021 field promises to be even more stacked in the wake of the Nike cancellation. Blair is hoping to go under 17 minutes for the first time.

“She’s definitely fit enough to do it,” coach Charlie Janssen said.

Drever is poised to prove that Blair isn’t the only surname valley fans should familiarize themselves with. Substantial physical and mental maturation in the past six months has resulted in the junior improving from a 4:41/10:30 (1600/3200) guy in track to 15:58 in the 5k this fall, the latter split being a 47-second improvement from 2020. It’s a testament to his growth and also an indication of his natural strength-based skillset.

“He just came out swinging this year,” Janssen gushed about Jake popping his Desert Twilight school record (non-Colorado courses).

“He’s super coachable, works hard, he’s confident and he’s cutthroat competitive.”

Drever will be racing in the medium school division, and should contend for a top-10 finish. He’ll be keying off of another local, Summit’s Dom Remeikis, in whatever lead pack materializes. The fellow junior boasts a faster personal best, but Janssen, who believes the first to the finish will occur via a seven-way knife fight, is just as much his harrier’s to claim as anyone’s. “I think he’s going to be in there,” he said.

With Drever’s breakout season, it was unfortunate to not have landed in the coveted championship race, but ultimately, Janssen believes it will have no impact on the runner’s mindset.

“It doesn’t matter what race you put him in. He’s ready to rip somebody’s head off, which is like the right kind of athlete that you want.”

With the high school social studies teacher/coach leading the long drive down, Eagle Valley conflated cross-country with “cross-curricular” during the trip in a similar vein as Battle Mountain’s college visits, interrupting van jam sessions with visits to historical markers along the Colorado, Utah and Arizona route.

“I try to hit some historical stuff,” Janssen recounted of Thursday evening’s exploits before Friday’s early-to-bed pre-race evening. Sand Island — one of the largest Petroglyph panels in North America — was 2021’s site of choice.

Eagle Valley has a scoring boys team (five athletes) as well as Blair in the championship race and three other girls in the medium school division. Drever will be joined by 16:47 guy Ferguson St. John, a senior Janssen said is “ready to pop another fast one,” as well as Cooper Fillmore and Lukas Bergsten, another senior who missed the state meet after a climbing accident temporarily sidelined him. Rounding out the team is sophomore Armando Fuentes. Fellow senior Jordan Neifert, who barely missed out on entrance into the championship race, will lead a trio of Anastacia Baker and Addison Marsh.

Jordan Neifert, state qualifier in the 3200, will look improve upon her 19:18 best and show race directors they were wrong to deny her entrance into the championship race.
Melinda Brandt/Courtesy photo.

“I’m feeling pretty confident,” Janssen remarked about his team heading into the race. “They’ve definitely paid their dues; the blade’s pretty sharp right now.”

Janssen’s approach to training is two cups sports science, one cup past experience, and a smidgen of the all important “art” of coaching.

“I try to find the perfect combination of both volume and intensity, which can be kind of a tightrope walk sometimes,” the coach said. “Catering it to individual strengths and individual needs can be difficult, too.”

In racing the entire CHSSA schedule while also eyeing NXR and eventually RunningLane in the far off distance, the Devils never tapered too dramatically at any point. Rather, they maintained their regular progression of building volume every three weeks, with a fourth “down” week. The way Janssen sees it, if they are resting and recovering properly, their fitness should build all through November.

“I feel like they’ve all really invested in the process. The hay’s in the barn — now it’s time to run fast.”

Lukas Bergsten competing for the Devils earlier this season.
Melinda Brandt/Courtesy photo
Cooper Filmore will look to extend his season in fine fashion this weekend at the NXR Southwest meet in Tempe, Arizona.
Melinda Brandt/Courtesy photo

The full schedule of events and free webcast can be found at dyestat.com/gprofile.php?.

Other valley runners in action this weekend

Saturday could be busy for running fans as they seek supurb streaming conditions. In addition to the free live stream for NXR, the NCAA Division I, II, and III national meets are also Saturday. As of this writing, the Vail Daily is aware of two athletes who will be competing.

Former Battle Mountain runner Elizabeth Constien, the sister of 2020 Olympian Val Constien, will be racing for the highly seeded Colorado Buffaloes in Tallahassee, Florida at the DI meet. Colorado is one of four teams — New Mexico, North Carolina State, and BYU being the others — who have stood above the rest of the country. The team race should be a classic clash of the titans, and Constien, who had a breakout year in 2020 and has been the 6th or 7th runner at most meets this year, including the Mountain West Regional last week, will undoubtedly impact the scoring in a race where depth runners are anticipated to be influential.

The race begins at 10:20 a.m. ET and can be viewed on ESPN U and the ESPN App.

Alex Raichart, a redshirt junior, will continue her season with the No. 5 ranked Colorado Mines at the Division II meet in Saint Leo, Florida, also Saturday. The former Husky has posted lifetime cross-country bests in the last month with an 18:01 5k at the Chile Pepper XC Festival on Oct. 1 and a 22:12 at the South Central Region Championships on Nov. 6. The women shoot off at 8:30 a.m. ET and can be found at ncaa.com/event/4103?ut.

Prep Preview: Girls Basketball

Battle Mountain Huskies

2020-21: (7-4 league record, 4th in 4A Western Slope)

Who is gone?

Gabriela Caballero (18.6 ppg, over 1,000 career points), Alden Pennington (10.3 ppg)

Who is back?

Jade Harding (Sr., 1.2 ppg), Augustine Hancock (Sr., 5.4 ppg), Mia Bettis (Sr., 1.6 ppg). Bentley Kent (Sr., 1.4 ppg), Elizabeth Keiser (Sr., 1.5 spg)

Storyline

Replacing the Gabriela Caballero-led, potent senior class of 2021 is the storyline going into 2022 for the Huskies. Fortunately, what Battle Mountain might lack in offensive might, they makes up with in depth. Three starters return as well as key contributors in Kent and Keiser.

Huskies coach Jim Schuppler believes the key will be consistency and becoming a defense-first team. “Last year with our two guards able to score from the outside, we often just outscored opponents,” he said this week.

Mia Bettis is one member of a deep senior class returning for the Huskies.
Courtesy Photo

“I’m not sure we have the outside fire power this year, and (points) will have to come from getting defensive stops.”

Battle Mountain has ambitious goals again this year. Hardcore fans might be interested in making the trip west to see how the hometown team stacks up against teams from the big city. Schuppler is excited for the Huskies to face some of the larger schools on the schedule as they prepare to shift to 5A classification.

“Fruita, Monument, Fairview and Grand Junction will be great tests for us,” he said. “It’ll be interesting to see where we stand when we face these larger schools.”

Eagle Valley Devils

2020-21: 2-11 (2-9 league; 6th in 4A Western Slope)

Who is gone?

Sieairra Rivera (8.0 ppg), Ilse Barcenas (4.9 ppg), Elizabeth Mendoza (3.5 ppg)

Who is back?

Anna Gill (Sr., 10.8 ppg), Jasmine Fontana (Sr., 4.0 ppg), C.J. Yurcak (Jr., 3.3 rpg)

Storyline

There is a lot of reason for optimism for second year coach Vinny Cisneros. Whereas last season 22 girls tried out for the team, this season there were 41.

“We have a huge freshmen group that is going to do wonders for our program,” he said.

Sophomores and juniors will be getting substantial playing time for the Devils this year, too.

“With the style and pace of basketball we’re trying to play, we’re looking to get 10-11 girls in the rotation and really just work ourselves into an identity.” The pandemic prevented any opportunity for summer leagues, but with the return of open gyms and off-season tournaments against tough, front range competition, Cisneros witnessed important growth.

Jasmine Fontana made big strides this off-season, according to Eagle Valley coach Vinny Cisneros.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

The off-season maturation of Jasmine Fontana has Cisneros excited. “She’s really been putting in a lot of work in the weight room, working on her jump shot,” he said.

In the Gold Crown tournament this summer, she led the team in scoring.

“Her jump shot was much improved. The work she’s been putting in is definitely paying off right now. I look forward to seeing the production she has for us.”

Fontana, who focuses on basketball year-round, will be counted on early in the season with Gill, the returning leading scorer, likely sidelined with an ankle injury for the first 4-6 weeks of the season.

In their first matchup against Battle Mountain last year, the Devils were trounced, 56-14. In February, they played the Huskies much more competitively, losing 56-46. We’ll find out if they’ve closed the gap even more in this early season contest.

Vail Christian Saints

2020-21: 5-5 (2-3 league; 5th in 2A/1A Western Slope — North League)

Who is gone?

Zoey Barela (13.1 ppg, All-State honorable mention), Grace McCurdy (16.8 ppg, All-State honorable mention).

Who is back?

Maggie Green (Sr., 2.9 ppg) Daisy Palacio (Jr., 5.6 ppg)

Storyline

The Lady Saints graduated two great players in Barela and McCurdy. The class of 2021 accounted for 73% of their scoring offense. After three quarantines interrupted their previous season, head coach Tim Pierson said they are excited to get back together and hopefully play with fewer COVID-19 interruptions.

“We have a great group of players and are about having fun.”

The Western Slope — North league is loaded with teams that can make a run at state. The South league is pretty good, too, and Cedaredge was 14-2 in 2020-21. The Lady Saints host the Bruins Jan. 15 in an early season test.

Preps Preview: Boys Basketball

With the lack of snow accumulation on the slopes, it’s a bit hard to believe that the winter sports season is here. Practices across the valley got underway on Monday, however, and in the next week, the Vail Daily hopes to prep you for prep sports.

In the strange season that was 2020-21, youth reigned supreme. Now, those youngsters have matured to veterans, and whether it is looking to capitalize on experience or use it as a launching pad, all teams come into 2022 with heightened goals.

Eagle Valley’s Bryan Martinez and Battle Mountain’s Jose Hernandez will be key returners for the Devils and Huskies heading into the 2021-22 season.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

Eagle Valley Devils

2020-21: 3-7 (2-7 league; 6th in 4A Western Slope)

Who is gone?

Carlos Sanchez (9.5 ppg, 41% FG)

Who is back?

Bryan Martinez (Sr., 9.2 ppg), Nikko Von Stralendorff (Jr., 8.6 ppg), Branden Vigil (Sr., 8.0 ppg), Eric Hasley (Sr., 5.4 rpg)

Storyline

The Devils return a healthy mix of seniors, juniors and sophomores, including four starters and every key rotation player from last year. Over the summer, that group went to work.

“The off-season was tremendous,” said head coach Justin Brandt.

The varsity will surely benefit from their 23 summer league games, and the pipeline is in good shape, too, with 30 games played between the C-team and junior varsity squads as well.

“Our team is trying to outwork our opponents and looking forward to that hard work paying off on the court this season,” Brandt said.

Cohesion will be critical for the Devils, according to the coach. “We can come together and put the team before me – ‘we’ before ‘I’ – and victory before individual accolades.”

Last March, the Devils let Glenwood Springs slip away in a close game at home. They are looking for healthy redemption.

Battle Mountain Huskies

2020-21: 1-13 (1-11 league; 7th in 4A Western Slope)

Who is gone?

Daniel Redinger (3.9 ppg)

Who is back?

Jose Hernandez (Sr., 2.9 apg), P.J. Kessenich (Sr., 3.8 ppg), Tanner Roberts (Sr., 6.7 ppg) , Elijah Morales (Sr., 6.5 rpg), Anders Schmidt (Sr., 4.3 ppg), Roshawn Reid (Sr., 4.2 ppg)

Storyline

The COVID-19-induced schedule was particularly rough on the Huskies, who played their first game three days after their initial practice. Furthermore, the starting lineup consisted mainly of players who had last seen the court as sophomores playing junior varsity. Being thrust into the varsity environment led to a discouraging record, but the Huskies finished the 2020-21 campaign with a 54-50 victory over Glenwood Springs. They will look to build off of that as they enter a new chapter in the program.

“We have had a good preseason and with a majority of our players being seniors, we are expecting to be much improved,” head coach Phil Tronsrue said.

“I believe the league is pretty wide open.“

With the loss of the 6-foot-4 Redinger, the Huskies will have some height to replace. Elijah Morales, who averaged 6.5 rebounds per game last year, should continue to be a force along the boards. Of the six major returning contributors from last year’s squad, Jose Hernandez and Tanner Roberts will be looked upon for leadership in the backcourt.

“We are focusing on us,” the head coach said.

“We want us to be the best we can, to play the best we can, to execute the best we can, and to be the best teammates that we can be.”

The Huskies will begin their season with two tournaments: one in Green Mountain and another two weeks later in Grand Junction. They open league play against their down-valley rivals to start 2022.

Connor Downey was an unsung hero in this 63-35 victory over Rangely last year, and will look to help guide Vail Christian back to the top of the 2A/1A Western Slope North League standings.
Mort Mulliken/Special to the Daily

Vail Christian Saints

2020-21: 8-5 (7-1 league, 1st in 2A/1A Western Slope-North League; lost in first round of state playoffs)

Who is gone?

None

Who is back?

Leo Rothenberg (Sr., 11.1 ppg, First Team All-League), Vincent Nowicki (Sr., 7.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg, First Team All-League), Connor Downey (Sr., 8.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg), Sean Boselli (Sr., 6.9 rpg).

Storyline

The Saints are likely eager for two things in the 2021-22 season.

First, getting back to a more normal schedule. “Last season was difficult to manage all the COVID regulations for basketball,” wrote head coach Sheldon Kuhns in an email.

Second, avenging a crushing loss to Sanford in last Saturday’s state football quarterfinals. A senior-led team with names familiar to football fans — Nowicki, Shull, Mills, and more — will look for retribution on the hardwood.

“With all players back, we are looking forward to competing for league, district, regional and state championships,” Kuhns wrote.

Meeker was neck and neck with the Saints atop the league standings last year. Vail Christian will get their first taste of the Cowboys in 2021-22 in a great early season holiday tournament matchup.

Vail Mountain School Gore Rangers

2020-21: 6-5 (6-2 league, 3rd in 2A/1A Western Slope-North League)

Who is gone?

Devin Yarde (10.9 ppg), Becker Dienst (7.8 ppg)

Who is back?

Cole Pattison (Sr., 11.8 ppg), Beck Sapp (Sr., 6.1 ppg)

Storyline

In addition to Pattison and Sapp, the Gore Rangers return Nick Kirwood and Peter Hughes. Pattison led the team in points and rebounds last year and was one of the top scores in the Western Slope-North League. He will be counted on to shoulder more of the leadership burden in the wake of captain point guard Devin Yarde’s departure. All four returners are “hard working, tough, and athletic ballplayers who are going to do a fantastic job leading our team all season long,” wrote head coach Caleb Florence in an email this week.

Last year, Vail Mountain made the state playoffs for the first time. They suffered a buzzer-beating loss in the first round against Fowler.

“It showed our guys the level of play we need to exceed in order to continue playing in March,” Florence said.

Florence is excited about the senior leadership returning to the floor, and thinks the sophomores’ and juniors’ ability to assimilate and contribute at the varsity level will play a large part in determining their fate.

“We have a great group of young players our coaching staff has been working hard to develop the last couple of seasons, and many of those players are going to be asked to play big roles for us this year,” Florence said.

Late in the year, the Gore Rangers face the defending league champs at home. This game could have playoff implications.

“We have a lot of respect for those programs so it’s hard not to treat them as ‘key’ games,” Florence said.

Beck Sapp, center, and Cole Pattison, far right, are key returners for the Gore Rangers.
Kathleen Hogan/Special to the Daily

 

Mullen prevails over Battle Mountain in soccer State semi-finals

Battle Mountain High School fell 3-0 to Mullen in the 4A State semifinals Wednesday.
Nick Tadrzynski/Courtesy photo

If the Battle Mountain High School Huskies were considered as underdogs going into last Saturday’s quarterfinal against The Classical Academy, then they would have had to be considered a one-in-a-million shot in last night’s semifinal against No. 2 Mullen.

While they had played TCA to a 1-0 loss in the regular season before their 4-0 playoff blowout last week, in their first meeting against the Mustangs on Aug. 21, the Huskies were on the wrong end of a 5-0 score. Granted, David Cope’s crew was coming off of a double-overtime game against Durango the night before that first match, while Mullen came in fresh. Regardless, even Lloyd Christmas, when faced with similar odds, famously proclaimed, “There’s still a chance!”

Movie references aside, coming out the victor at Legacy Stadium was destined to be a tall order for the black and gold. Cope expected Mullen to play long, direct, and physical and knew the Huskies needed to match the physicality and add their own bit of flair and swagger.

“It could be an ugly game if they dictate the tempo, or a beautiful one if we set the pace and get the ball,” he stated before the game.

Led by Eli Kerschen and Andrew DeBerardinis, who came into the game with 26 goals and 16 goals, respectively, the Mustangs ended up establishing the quick pace and asserting their will.

In the second half, Kerschen’s header off of a long centering pass put Mullen up 3-0. The Huskies worked to counter immediately, but Mustang goalkeeper Andrew McGrath, who came into the game having allowed only five goals on the entire season, squashed a golden Husky scoring opportunity 7 minutes into the half, securing a centering pass that sat right in front of the net for a tense moment.

The Huskies had more opportunities but couldn’t capitalize. Joseph Fernandez had a great look from point-blank range in the 27th minute, but his direct kick on goal was easily scooped up by McGrath.

Even though the season ended with a loss, Battle Mountain’s culture endures.

“There is a continuity to the Huskies and a togetherness,” Cope said in a written statement regarding the program.

After the game, he felt content with the effort.

“Very proud of this senior class,” he said. “The word “family” gets thrown around a lot in sports and workplaces, but here it is real.”

 

Huskies topple Titans, advance to final four

One can forgive those Huskies fans who were tracking the 4A state quarterfinal game against The Classical Academy from home.

The Classical Academy came into Saturday’s 4A state soccer quarterfinal with a 16-1 record. The host Titans also boasted a 9-0 home record, and if that wasn’t enough, they had defeated visiting Battle Mountain just two weeks ago, 1-0.

So, when the live video feed never materialized, all that kept most connected to the score were comment section updates on Maxpreps.com, and when it showed a score of 3-0 early, it seemed like someone had hacked into the system.

A dominant 4-0 victory over the Titans, however, was not a case of online misinformation.

Three goals in the opening 20 minutes of play got the Huskies off to a hot start, and they controlled the game from there to pave their way to the semifinals.

The Huskies boys soccer team poses after their quarterfinal victory over The Classical Academy. Courtesy photo
David Cope/Courtesy photo

Leo Soto continued his stellar playoffs performance in the quarterfinals, scoring two goals. Joseph Fernandez and Saul Sinaoloa each scored a goal as well.

The Huskies go up against No. 2 Mullen (16-1) on Nov. 10 at Chery Creek School District Legacy Stadium, with a right to play for a state title on the line.

Vail Mountain’s boys soccer team was also in quarterfinal action on Saturday. They faced a tall order as well, playing the late game in the 3A tournament against the undefeated No. 1 seed Jefferson Academy in Broomfield. The Gore Rangers stayed with the Jaguars in the scoreless first half, but Jefferson Academy exploded for three goals in the second to win 3-0.

Nick Kirwood checks a pass from a teammate in Saturday night’s game against Jefferson Academy. Connor Cooley/Courtesy photo
Mason Geller eyes a Jefferson Academy shot.
Connor Cooley/Courtesy photo
Beck Sapp looks on as Jack Schwartz receives a pass.
Connor Cooley/Courtesy photo
Jack Schwartz launches a pass for the Gore Rangers on Saturday night.
Connor Cooley/Courtesy photo