Local prep sports open with new leagues
EAGLE COUNTY — It’s not just you. Preps are starting early this year.
Golf tryouts tee off at Vail (Vail Mountain), Eagle-Vail (Battle Mountain), Eagle Ranch (Vail Christian) and Gypsum Creek (Eagle Valley), while Devils softball also reports on Monday. The first golf tournament is one week from today at Battlement Mesa.
Everybody else (football, soccer, cross country and volleyball) starts official practice on Aug. 11.
Before everyone’s four favorite high schools get going, though, it’s time for a primer on realignment. You can’t tell the leagues without a program. We’re not kidding here.
Devils, Huskies football
Here’s an important CHSAA rule to remember: If a team does not win 20 percent of its games during a four-year period, then it may play down a classification for the next two-year cycle, which starts now.
That means that Montezuma-Cortez is out of the 3A Slope and off to the 2A Slope South. (And every coach in the 3A Slope rejoiced as the trip to Four Corners is a budget-buster.)
Despite an 0-20 stretch during the past two years, Battle Mountain was 12-29 during the past four years — the unfortunate side effect, with regard to the 20-percent rule, of a great 9-2 year in 2011. Nonetheless, the Huskies were able to petition CHSAA to move to the 2A Slope North. Moffat County is also out of the 3A Slope because its student body is now smaller than 600, the 3A-2A football cut.
So, the 3A Slope is now Eagle Valley, Delta, Glenwood Springs, Steamboat Springs, Rifle, Palisade and new members, Grand Junction Central and Summit County. Central is a 4A school playing down because of the 20-percent rule. Summit County, a Slope team in all other sports, finally joined on the football side.
Fear not, people, Eagle Valley and Battle Mountain still play each other during Week 2 (Sept. 5) in Gypsum. It’s just a nonconference game. The Devils’ other nonconference games are home for Vista PEAK and at Basalt.
The new home of the Huskies, the 2A Slope North, includes Aspen, Basalt, Coal Ridge, Moffat County and Roaring Fork. Battle Mountain’s nonconference slate is Middle Park, the Devils, Steamboat Springs and Pueblo County.
While competing in a 2A conference, the Huskies are still eligible for the 3A postseason. The math, however, would be difficult because teams get fewer points in games against 2A foes than against 3A opponents.
Vail Christian football
The Saints are still in the Central League (informally called the 8-man Slope) and they’re still playing 8-man football. That’s about the only thing that’s the same.
At least, CHSAA renamed this circuit. It was originally the I-25 League, which really was a misnomer with regard to Vail Christian’s location.
The Saints’ new league is Elbert, Gilpin County, Justice, Longmont Christian, Nederland, Rocky Mountain Lutheran, West Grand and Pikes Peak. West Grand is the only holdover from the old Western Slope, which the Saints won in 2013.
Vail Christian knows Elbert and Pikes Peak from crossover games in previous years. Longmont Christian and Rocky Mountain Lutheran were regular nonconference games. Gilpin and Justice are familiar foes from past incarnations of the Central, while Nederland is coming down from 1A 11-man football on the 20-percent rule.
On the positive side of the ledger, the Saints probably have an easier road to the playoffs. What’s disappointing here is the loss of rivalries with Hayden, Rangely and Soroco, Saints-Rams games being particularly heated, from the old Central League.
In other Saints notes, CHSAA has eliminated crossovers, and all 8-man teams will play a nine-game schedule. As such, the Saints open in Colbran with their traditional nonconference opener against Plateau Valley.
Rifle is leaving the 4A Slope via the 20-percent rule. The Bears are replaced with Delta and that poses a challenge, in particular, for Battle Mountain. The Huskies have won the league four years running, but one of their two losses during last year’s regular season was at Delta, 2-1, in a nonconference game. The Panthers went 12-3 in 2013 and made the state playoffs as an independent, falling to Montrose, 3-2, in the first round.
Class 2A volleyball and basketball
In college sports, the Big 10 has 14 teams, which is perfectly logical. So welcome to the new 2A Slope with 14 teams and two divisions. (In fairness, this alignment has nothing to do with a television deal and the division are not the Leaders and Legends.)
Vail Christian has played in forms of the 2A Slope in both volleyball and basketball primarily for geographical convenience before dropping down to 1A in the postseason. Now the Saints are officially 2A. And while the Saints are moving up, other teams are moving down and the 2A Slope is a goliath.
Vail Christian, Vail Mountain, Soroco, Hayden, West Grand, North Park and DeBeque make up the Northern Division of the league. The South is Cedaredge, Hotchkiss, Paonia, Meeker, Rangely, Plateau Valley and Cornerstone Christian (a school in Grand Junction).
Teams in each division will play each other twice, making for a 12-game league schedule. Inter-division play, like Meeker at Vail Christian on Sept. 5, is not a league game.
Come postseason and districts, North Park, DeBeque, Plateau Valley and Cornerstone will drop to 1A, while the Saints and Gore Rangers and the rest of the North meet up with their counterparts from the South. The top-three teams from the 2A District 5 Tournament, a fancy name for the 2A Slope championship tournament, make regionals in both volleyball and basketball.
And, coming soon …
Congratulations to Eagle Valley wrestling. The Devils are now a 3A team, instead of 4A. Class 4A was getting top-heavy with 71 teams, while 3A had 38 within the old student-count guidelines, according to CHSAA.com.
So, 3A wrestling is now composed of schools with student bodies of 276-780, and Eagle Valley makes the cut. If you’re wondering, Battle Mountain was at 794 kids, according to Count Day, Oct. 1, 2013, and stays at 4A.
While Vail Christian and Vail Mountain golf, as well as VMS boys soccer, will continue to play at 3A, the smallest classification available for those sports, there’s good news on the girls soccer front. There will be 2A soccer in the spring. While CHSAA hasn’t issued its official conference alignment, it’s likely that the Gore Rangers and Saints will stay in the 3A Slope for the regular season, but drop to 2A for the postseason.
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.