A look back at the interesting people and events of the past year in sports
It’s been a great 12 months of sports here in the Grand Valley and a little beyond.
There have been so many special performances, personalities and events that I’ve had the pleasure of covering and writing about from June to June.
From high school to Colorado Mesa to recreation, I thought I’d take a few minutes to reflect on just some of the events and athletes that I wrote about in the past year.
In no particular order:
The Grand Junction High School baseball team had a good season that ended after one win in the postseason.
For senior Owen Taylor, there were mighty struggles at the plate, trying to do too much. Here’s hoping he finds happier times in the batter’s box at the University of Kansas.
For Tiger senior Ty Dixon, it was a different kind of season. The relief pitcher and right fielder dedicated the season to his late brother Troy, who died last June. Ty, who wore Troy’s old number (No. 4), also had elbow surgery in July, making it a very trying year.
But after a fun, rewarding season, Troy would have been proud of his little brother.
Levi Hoaglund, moved from tight end to quarterback, and quickly became arguably the Class 3A Western Slope League’s best player. He led Palisade to the league title with his legs and right arm, finishing with nearly 2,000 yards of total offense. Not bad for a former tight end who will move to outside linebacker next season with CMU.
Hoaglund also led the Bulldogs to a dramatic last-minute 28-27 win over Rifle, which was the best football game I saw last year.
Grand Junction’s Tyler Heinsma was Grand Junction’s big, strong, fast and special QB. His 201 yards rushing in the first-round of the 5A playoffs was an awesome display of athleticism.
Ariane Horbach was as dominant as any athlete I saw this year. The freshman from Germany helped lead Colorado Mesa University to the road cycling national title.
She dominated the Maverick Classic, winning both the criterium and the road race, then picked up a national title in the criterium. If it wasn’t for two flat tires she probably would have won the road title, too.
In the sport of bike racing, where so much can go wrong — like flat tires — Horbach’s amazing season was spectacular.
Paonia football had a season for the ages and now has a 1A state title trophy to go in its ever-growing trophy case.
A super sophomore named Taylor Walters led the Eagles to that title with an amazing title-game performance, and during the season he rushed for nearly 2,000 yards. I haven’t seen a more talented small-town all-around athlete for a very long time. It’s encore time, kid. Good luck.
Not all great sports stories are about championships or the people on top of the podium, and a few come to mind.
Chuck Bisbee of Fruita Monument finally qualified for state in the 3,200- and 1,600-meter runs and had a splendid time racing in Lakewood. The senior placed ninth with a personal-best time that broke the school record in the 5A 3,200 race. A great finish to a high school career for a dedicated athlete.
As a senior whose sports focus at Montrose High School had been football, Conner Lawson decided after the football season ended, “What the heck, why not go out for wrestling?” He won a regional wrestleback match to qualify for state at 182 pounds for Montrose, then won one match at state. A memorable season for a first-time wrestler.
I still wince at the memory of Palisade’s Cruz Maestas wailing in pain on the Walker Field turf after shredding her knee in a soccer game. After a memorable basketball season, the senior was the offensive spark plug for the Bulldogs’s soccer team until that injury ended her season. The Bulldogs had a nice late-season run but the “what if?” question has to be asked. What if they had a healthy Cruz Maestas?
JUCO — every year that spells fun and lots of great baseball. And lot of work.
Austin Williams — wow, big fella, wow. From his very first toss of the season, the Cedaredge junior shot putter had no rivals. He went on to an easy win to claim the Class 3A state title, and next year will be exciting to see if he can go 65 feet or beyond.
Alexis Skarda ended her fabulous CMU cycling career as a three-time mountain biking national champ. Now, it’s on to the pros.
Congratulations to Dave Mantlo for being honored for decades of dedication and volunteering at Grand Mesa Little League.
Welcome back to Palisade football, Joe Ramunno. It was like you never left.
Ditto to Roger Walters, who returned to the high school ranks two years ago and this past winter led the Rifle boys to the 4A WSL title. The dude can coach.
Great season for Montrose football but a bummer of an ending. The Indians made the 4A state title game but ran into a big, physical and better Pine Creek squad.
Ryley Beach, teenage Loma team roper. What a talented and dedicated kid. He learned how to rope even with a birth defect in his arm.
Ed Chamberlin is an awesome local cyclist, who at 64 years old competed in the UCI Masters Road World Championships in Trento, Italy.
Shirley Callaway is an awesome local weightlifter, who at age 60 competed at the World Masters Games in Torino, Italy. She won two gold medals, set five world masters records and won the Best Lifter Award for women ages 60 to 64. Impressive dedication.
Matt Hood is one of those competitors who knows he’s not going to win but that doesn’t detour his determination. This spring, the Plateau Valley sophomore was running the 1,600 meters when he was showered with cheers and applause at Stocker Stadium. He finished about four minutes behind the winner, but he runs because he likes it and to help him lose weight, and he continues to inspire his teammates to do their best.
Perfection is a fleeting dream, but for CMU’s Ashley Pulido, she returned from a shoulder injury as a junior and pitched a five-inning perfect game against New Mexico Highlands this season.
Zach Marengo had stellar seasons in football and basketball for Palisade. He was also on the Bulldogs’ co-ed cheerleading team, continuing a neat tradition of Palisade football players doubling as cheerleaders.
Tony Darling won the Class 2A heavyweight wrestling title for Paonia after settling for second as a junior. Darling, who once weighed 320 pounds in high school, was a powerful 240 pounds when he won the state title in February, making it worth the weight and the wait.
Covering Special Olympics is emotional, heartwarming and inspirational. Having the Summer Games here in Grand Junction is truly special.
There are some great soccer players here in the Grand Valley, and Matt Miller of Central and Grand Junction’s Taylor Chaffetz were two of the best and most fun players to watch this year.
No one wants to be third string — ever — but especially not as a senior. But CMU QB Jason Haferman didn’t let his attitude or work ethic suffer, and when injuries hit the Mavs, he was ready to do his part to help the team.
Fruita Monument volleyball, led by eight seniors, had one of the best Western Slope seasons by any team in a long time. Joelle LeFevre was the league’s top player, and she went on to have a good track season for the Wildcats, too.
The Grand Junction Gladiators won their second straight American Professional Football League II championship, and a shout-out goes to defensive lineman Arvis Sanders. He used the motivation of playing football to keep him focused in his cancer fight. Good luck, Arvis, and good riddance to your cancer.
Dalton Hannigan had emotional endings to his football and wrestling careers at Palisade. A tough loss in the playoffs, then an ankle injury that conspired against him derailed his shot at second straight state wrestling title. Still, a great high school career with tons of memories.
And how about the sisterhood of the traveling basketball shorts. Palisade’s Brown sisters are quite the foursome. Jenna the senior, Casey the junior, Ashlyn the sophomore and Christa the freshman, all helped lead Palisade to the playoffs.
This year’s state wrestling tournament was a lot about Paonia. The Eagles had five champions and repeated as 2A’s top team. Jesse Reed won his third straight title and now has a shot at wrestling’s ultimate achievement next year — becoming a four-time state champ.
There are only 17 wrestlers on the four-time title list right now and only three from the Western Slope.
For Meeker’s T.J. Shelton, he won his second-straight 2A state wrestling title as a sophomore.
Wow, wow and triple wow! That sums up the performance of Hotchkiss senior Jennifer Celis at the 2A state track and field meet. The senior, bound for Oklahoma State in the fall, won the 800 in record-setting fashion on one day. Then the next day, she won the 1,600, setting another state record, then about 19 minutes later she took off in the 400 meters, which she won rather easily.
Let’s just make it one big WOW!
And lastly, I need to remember the most tragic and sad story of many years. The passing of Reid Gates in September shocked and saddened us all. The outpouring of support from around the region and state was so heartwarming. The grace and courage demonstrated by his family and many friends following the tragedy was simply awe-inspiring.
Reid is gone, but the incredibly gifted multisport athlete will never be forgotten by his family, friends and classmates. Here’s hoping Cedaredge and the Gates family will find many, many happy memories in the years to come.
As usual, it was a year full of a little bit of everything for me. Thanks again to all the people who shared their thoughts, stories and words with me. I am always humbled to be able to tell your stories, and I will always strive to do the best I can with those stories.
Good luck to all in the year to come.