The year in Vail Valley prep sports: All the best stuff from 2019
From memorable rivalry games to standout individual performances, the year that was
I do consider Eagle County to be Lake Wobegone at altitude “where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”
And, happily, there were several instances in 2019 in which the children were actually far above average.
Here’s the best of the local prep sports scene for 2019. Apologies if I missed anything, there was just so much to write home about.
Eagle Valley drives for the win
Eagle Valley and Battle Mountain actually played a fun, competitive football game that the Devils won, 22-15. Eagle Valley drove 97 yards in the final minutes to erase at 15-14 Huskies’ lead. Will Geiman to Matt Lee for a touchdown did the deed.
Battle Mountain also revived the flip play with Victor Ortiz doing backflips to distract the Devils on a 2-point conversion that provided the lead which Eagle Valley needed to overcome.
You all think I like one team better than the other here. Yes, I like the Giants better than the Dodgers and the 49ers more than the Cowboys. (If you haven’t figured that out by now, you aren’t paying attention.) In preps, I root for our local teams to win because you all like me a whole lot more when your teams win.
When the Devils and Huskies play each other (or the Saints or Gore Rangers), I root for a close game, and we finally got one.
We’re No. 1
In the head-of-school-gets-excited department, Vail Christian 8-man football spent most of the season ranked No. 1 in the state, according to the rating-percentage index. Allowing for Steve O’Neil’s genuine pride in the Saints, they were fun to watch and went 10-1 in 2019, making the state quarterfinals for only the third time in school history.
Vail Christian ran the single-wing with creativity, including a play called the J-Train which allowed center John Pavelich to rush for a 2-point conversion.
The Saints also managed to play defense in the wide-open 8-man game and were just a generally entertaining football team, playing with around 14 Nowickis (OK, only two, Simon and Vinny.)
They’re still fast. Lizzy and Naomi got on Nordic skis, along with Grace Johnson, helping Battle Mountain alpine to a state title down in Durango in February. (Whose idea was it to have state down there? Yeesh.)
On the track, the Harding sisters continued to be fast. Lizzy, Naomi, Johnson and Sofia Piliero combined for the Huskies’ third consecutive 3,200-meter relay state title. (Coach Rob Parish really should have run Liz Constein on that team.)
Then Lizzy and Nomi went 1-2 in the 1,600 at state. Otherwise, the two had a pretty mellow year. The Huskies finished second in the 4A state meet. (Bleeping Niwot.)
With the Hardings running at the University of North Carolina during the fall, Battle Mountain cross-country still won its ninth-consecutive regional title — is that a nono-peat? — and finished second in the state. (Bleeping Niwot.)
They’re still fast. At Eagle Valley, Joslin and Samantha Blair ran all over the place, by which we mean Texas, Kansas, Arizona, Argentina, Italy, and Oregon. (We weren’t kidding.)
When in the state of Colorado, the Blairs anchored the No. 2 team in the state in the 3,200 relay, won multiple medals at the state track meet and rampaged in cross-country. Samantha won the individual regional title one year after Joslin took the title. By the way, Naomi Harding won in 2017. This sibling stuff is awfully confusing for an only child.
Battle Mountain girls basketball won its first league title, the first for the program since 1993. For players like Claire Krueger, who played all four years, and experienced the worst, and Audrey Teague, who had an older sister who experienced the worst, these were heady days.
Battle Mountain’s girls even won a playoff game, beating Harrison in the first round of the tournament.
Meanwhile, the rivalry never fails to deliver, especially when the Devils and Huskies meet in Edwards. In boys basketball, the two played another classic with Eagle Valley winning in triple overtime, 82-78.
The Devils’ Carlos Quezada is my personal hero for helping end that game with a 3-pointer. As we wrote earlier, I root for close games in the rivalry, but I really root for making deadline.
Just for kicks
Vail Mountain School soccer wore orange in both the spring and the fall because the disposition of its psyche corresponded with the culture of the school for a translation of core principals from training sessions to the pitch. All of this occurred under variegated skies.
If we may get serious — ahem — Battle Mountain soccer was pretty darn good. Under coach David Cope, the girls and boys went a combined 30-3-1 for two Slope crowns and three playoff wins and two Player of the Year Awards.
Krueger continued her masterful year in the spring anchoring a rock-solid defense, winning Player of the Year honors in the Western Slope. Audrey Teague was also pretty good kicking the ball. She’s now at Regis University, terrorizing defenders there.
The girls made it back-to-back league titles in the spring, and the boys five-peated in the fall. The fall was splendid and heartbreaking simultaneously. The guys, led by Dani Barajas, were a juggernaut, going 14-0-1 and becoming the first team in the history of a storied program to be the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
And then the Huskies lost in the quarterfinals, 3-1, against Lewis-Palmer and the season was over. Just like that. Sports seasons rarely end happily, and this one was no exception.
We’ll see you in 2020.
Wolves were a problem for ranchers when Kip Gates’ great-great-grandfather homesteaded in the area. He doesn’t want the problem to return.