Eagle Climbing and Fitness trio competes at USA Climbing divisionals
Gray-Lopresti qualified for the second-day of competition and finished in 13th in the male youth A finals
A trio of Eagle Climbing and Fitness athletes competed at the USA Climbing Division 4 — one of nine divisions nationwide — bouldering championships in Oklahoma City Feb. 11-12. The event combined the top 13 athletes each from Region 41 and Region 42, with the top-six finishers in each class qualifying for the USA Climbing nationals in July. Dylan Hewitt and Ella Regjo placed 14th and 22nd, respectively, in the male and female youth C category on the first day. Only the top 13 advanced to finals on day 2. Elliot Gray-Lopresti finished 10th in the male youth A qualifier and 12th in the final.
“All of our athletes ended up beating people at divisionals who they lost to at regionals, which kind of attests to the training and work they’ve put in over the last two months,” said Max Donovan, Eagle Climbing and Fitness head route setter. A year ago, the Denver-native started coaching the gym’s Elite Talons and Junior Talons. As he works with Gray-Lopresti, Donovan, who reached three national championships as a youth climber himself, can see he’s knocking on the door of national-level stuff and hungry to shore up any deficiencies in his craft.
“He is laser-focused on that and has a really good sense of his own weaknesses and strengths. Male youth A is a difficult category to be a first-year because physiologically, the athletes are so different,” he said, adding that Gray-Lopresti is still looking to improve his power and ability to climb over steeply-hung terrain.
The first day’s routes — less over-hung and more technical — favored the Eagle Valley freshman’s style and strength as it highlighted athletes’ ability to interpret difficult moves. On the second day, Donovan said his pupil was “hitting a power barrier.”
“Essentially, there were moves he was doing correctly, but that he physically could not perform — which is actually a much easier thing to train than the more technical components of movement,” he said.
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Having gone into the competition with the goal of making it to the second day, however, the coach said all parties left satisfied.
“He qualified out of regionals in eighth, but qualifying 10th at divisionals was actually a much better performance than that,” Donovan stated.
“It also attests to Elliot’s mental fortitude, which is really I think what separates him from other climbers his age. It was really cool to spend time with him and see him kind of let himself off the hook a bit for that second day, go into it as a learning experience and not to put too much pressure on himself.”
In a post-competition debrief, Donovan said Gray-Lopresti has now set an ambitious spring goal. “He’s excited to compete in rope season and has now set the goal of qualifying to nationals out of both of those events,” Donovan continued. “Because I think he saw what the competition looked like and felt like he could perform at that level.”
Donovan was also encouraged by Hewitt and Regjo’s weekend.
“It’s a super exciting position for both to be in, as well as for the team as a whole — having such a young team going,” he said.
“I think for them, it was really cool to go to this event, maintain composure with some really seasoned athletes and see themselves as of that caliber.”
Donovan said the most difficult component of the event, which uses an on-site format — holding athletes in “isolation” before being called out individually to the competition wall — is “managing one’s emotions, anxiety and performance.”
“It’s a nervewracking experience to be going through your warm-ups and really having no idea what the climbs are going to require of you,” he explained.
“Boulders are difficult to read and interpret and you can learn so much from watching a competitor complete a route. So, that (isolation) is a really unique part to our sport and it challenges these younger athletes especially to maintain that composure.”
Donovan said he preps his athletes by training them to move quickly and decisively through different beta, climbing jargon for information on the moves, sequence, or holds on a climb. With only four minutes for each boulder, quality beats quantity when it comes to attempts, and all three athletes showed monumental improvement in that regard.
“Elliot is very disciplined in that area and Dylan and Ella showed huge strides in the mental component,” he said. “I saw them changing their beta, thinking about it quite frequently and putting in incredibly high-quality attempts.”
Hewitt, who finished just one place (14th) shy of qualifying to the second day, was two moves away from cracking the top-10.
“He had some pretty incredible moments. He was very close to qualifying through to that second day,” Donovan said.
“So, he is definitely coming out of this experience with a bit of a fire lit underneath him and he’s also capable of competing in the highest level in an incredibly competitive category in our region. For all three of them, we have national champions who compete out of this division.”
Eagle Climbing and Fitness gym owner Larry Moore said he wasn’t surprised by the promising results in Oklahoma.
“We’ve seen the potential of these athletes,” he said. “So I’d say we’re happy with the bouldering season results and we’re looking to step it up even more in the rope-climbing season.”
As the USA Climbing calendar shifts to rope climbing, Moore said his athletes’ training changes slightly as well.
“They’re a little different — bouldering is a little more power-based and rope climbing is a little more endurance based,” he explained, adding that older athletes climb on a lead, clipping into protection on the way up, while younger athletes top-rope climb. Hewitt, Regjo and Gray-Lopresti will have their feet in both camps a bit with the upcoming American Scholastic Climbing League state championships this weekend in Broomfield, which includes a mix of bouldering and rope-climbing. Nine climbers from Moore’s gym, representing all four local high schools (including a scoring Eagle Valley girls squad) will be competing.
“I’m super excited to see them at state,” said Donovan. “We usually have a lot of success competing in this category.”