Top Sports Stories 2-10: Colorado Mesa fires cycling coach Rick Crawford

Colorado Mesa University cycling coach Rick Crawford fights back tears Wednesday as he talks about telling his college team of his past involvement in the cycling world’s doping scandal. Crawford was later fired after new allegations surfaced.


Honorable mention

Several other stories drew a fair amount of votes, but not enough to land in the top 10.

Earning honorable mention for The Daily Sentinel’s top sports stories of 2012 are:

■ Grand Junction’s Jim Whiteley won the National Hot Rod Association national title for Lucas Oil top alcohol dragster, and when his wife, Annie, joined him as a regional champion in funny car, they became the first husband and wife to win NHRA region or division titles in the same year.

■ After twice finishing runner-up at the CHSAA Class 5A state wrestling tournament, Grand Junction High School’s Jessie Hoffschneider won the state title at 171 pounds as a senior.

■ Olathe High School wrestler Zach Shank became a three-time state champion and four-time state finalist when he capped his career with the CHSAA Class 3A state title at 132 pounds.

■ Paonia won the Class 2A team title at the 2012 CHSAA state wrestling tournament.

■ Cedaredge sprinter Sierra Williams concluded her high school track career with four Class 3A state titles and state-meet records, winning the 100- and 200-meter dashes and running a leg of the winning 400 and 800 relays.

Two weeks after Colorado Mesa University cycling coach Rick Crawford was put on probation for providing performance-enhancing drugs to two professional cyclists when he coached them, new allegations from a third, anonymous cyclist led the university to fire Crawford.

The initial action against Crawford stemmed from testimony in an affidavit by pro cyclist Levi Leipheimer during the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s investigation of doping charges against the U.S. Postal Service team and seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong. USADA stripped Armstrong of those titles and banned him from the sport for life.

Colorado Mesa hired Crawford in February 2012. Previously he coached Fort Lewis College to 10 national cycling championships.

During a Dec. 5 interview with The Daily Sentinel, Crawford admitted providing erythropoietin, better know as EPO, to Leipheimer and Kirk O’Bee from 1999 to 2001. Crawford said he did not provide performance-enhancing drugs to collegiate cyclists while coaching them.

No. 3

The Grand Valley lost one of its greatest sports and business icons when Gene Taylor died March 16 at age 79.

The man whom friends called “Geno” founded Gene Taylor’s Sporting Goods in 1958, opening the store in downtown Grand Junction. The store eventually relocated to 445 W. Gunnison Ave.

Taylor’s community involvement and philanthropy were matched by few in the Grand Valley. He was well-known for his support of youth sports programs, which sometimes amounted to donating equipment and clothing to young athletes who couldn’t afford either.

He wanted Grand Valley teams to be able to compete at the highest levels, which perhaps was showcased best with the formation of the Gene Taylor’s American Legion baseball team, a collection of all-star talent from the Grand Valley. Its 1982 team reached the national tournament. This past summer Gene Taylor’s won the American Legion state title and advanced to the regional in California.

No. 4

They were coming off three losing seasons.

Their starting quarterback missed the state semifinal.

They’d never won a state championship.

Still, Cedaredge High School, with backup quarterback Trent Walker under center, won at No. 1-seeded Buena Vista 18-16 on Nov. 23 to win the Class 1A state title — its first football title in school history.

“Everyone just flew around,” Bruins wide receiver and cornerback Cade Wasser said after the game. “People were overcoming adversity. Even injuries. It’s something where you just work for the person next to you and you would die for that guy.”

Cedaredge had not qualified for state since it reached the Class 2A state championship game in 1993.

According to former Cedaredge Athletic Director Randy Brown, the school was built in 1918 and fielded its first football team in 1950.
Members of a local organizing committee bidding to get a stage of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge thought the inability to route the race through Colorado National Monument prevented Grand Junction from hosting in 2012.

No. 5

So, the committee tried again to get a stage, but in mid-December when Grand Junction learned it had been rejected for a 2013 stage, it was told the USA Pro Challenge wanted to keep the race on the Front Range.

Indeed, when the 2013 stages were announced, there were no starts or finishes in places such as Montrose, Crested Butte and Telluride as there had been in 2012.

Grand Junction in 2013 will instead focus on the Tour of the Moon, a noncompetitive bike ride that drew nearly 1,900 mostly out-of-town participants in early October for the first-year event. It also is negotiating to host a three-day mountain bike event, including a professional race, over Labor Day weekend.

No. 6

He had 3,002 yards rushing this season.

Enough said, right?

But there was more to Rifle running back Ryan Moeller’s season than just that whopping statistic that left him sixth all-time on Colorado’s all-classifications, single-season rushing list, and 11th in the nation this season among 11-man teams.

Moeller had 43 touchdowns. On 272 carries, he fumbled once. He averaged 11 yards per carry.

And he played defense.

From his safety position, Moeller had eight interceptions, tied for fourth among the state’s 11-man teams, with 239 return yards as Rifle posted six shutouts.

He led Rifle to 13 consecutive wins and an appearance in the Class 3A state championship game.

So far, Moeller has received college football interest from the University of Colorado, Colorado State University, the University of Wyoming, University of Nevada-Las Vegas, Tulsa University and Colorado Mesa University.

No. 7

The Lincoln Park Sports Complex (Stocker Stadium and Suplizio Field) may have been the most anticipated sports-facility opening in Grand Junction history.

Fans were so excited to catch a baseball game at the renovated Lincoln Park Sports Complex, an NCAA Division II record crowd attended the first game.

A crowd of 4,122 people watched Colorado Mesa defeat Colorado State University-Pueblo 8-5 at Suplizio Field, breaking the previous record of 3,683 set in 2005 by CSU-Pueblo in a game against Mesa.

The $8.3 million “Tower” project was completed one month ahead of the May 20 promise date.

The Tower includes an Americans with Disabilities Act seating area, press box and hospitality suites. A new concourse and dugouts were part of the project. Other additions were made to the baseball field, bringing the total price to a little more than $9.85 million.

The project also helped lure the Colorado Rockies’ rookie league team from Casper, Wyo., to Grand Junction.

No. 8

Despite diminished funding, School District 51 athletic programs in high schools and middle schools managed to retain sports through fundraising and increased athletic fees.

Over the past six years, the sports-enterprise allotment from District 51’s general fund decreased 92 percent, from $258,000 in 2006–07 to $20,000 for this school year.

In the past year, cuts to sports program were considered an option.

But along with increased fees and fundraising, athletic programs shaved games from schedules in an effort to continue the athletics and balance the budget.

No. 9

For the first time in 14 years, a new coach led the Colorado Mesa University football team on the field.

Coming from former RMAC rival Nebraska-Kearney, Russ Martin may not have been a welcome hire by Mavericks fans at first, but Martin’s background and experience brought a renewed excitement to the program.

Martin was the coordinator of the top offense in the RMAC and one of the best in the nation in 2011 as the Lopers were second in Division II in total offense (519 yards per game) and 10th in scoring (39.5 ppg).

Martin replaced Joe Ramunno, who led the Mavericks for 14 seasons, the second-longest football tenure in school history.

The Mavericks finished 4-7 (4-5 RMAC).

No. 10

Former Mesa State College pitcher Sergio Romo became a star on the national stage.

The San Francisco Giants’ pitcher became the seventh reliever to save at least three games in a World Series, and he recorded the final out as the Giants won Major League Baseball’s championship with a four-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers.

Romo took over the closer role this past season after Brian Wilson tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and needed season-ending surgery. Romo was 14 for 15 in save opportunities during the regular season and had a 1.79 ERA.

He is eligible for arbitration now and can expect a significant pay raise after his World Series performance. He made $1.58 million for the 2012 season.

Romo set numerous school records in his one season at Mesa in 2005, including lowest career ERA (2.46), single-season ERA (2.46), innings pitched in one season (124 1/3), strikeouts in one season (129) and fewest walks per nine innings (1.1).


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