Top 10 sports stories of 2016 — No. 6-10

The new downhill mountain bike trails at Powderhorn Mountain Resort drew plenty of two-wheel enthusiasts, including Darin Carville, who soars over a jump during a race in August.

E.J. Barrera and the Central Warriors were a pass-happy team in 2016 and their passing attack helped them get into the playoffs. Central was one of several Western Slope teams to have successful gridiron seasons.

The Paonia 800-meter relay team, from left, Brianna Van Vleet, Emily Pieper, Ashley Van Vleet and Marisa Edmondson helped the Eagles win a fourth straight Class 2A state team track and field title last May.

No. 6 — Powderhorn Mountain Resort goes year-round

It’s been quite a year for Powderhorn Mountain Resort. Back in December 2015, the resort cut the ribbon on the new Flat Top Flyer, a high-speed quad chair.

Then snow pummeled the mountain for most of the season, which led to a fantastic ski and snowboard season. When the resort closed for its winter season in late March, the resort had a 45 percent visitor increase over the previous season. It was also the best season since the new owners took over in 2011.

The new chair lift, along with additional snow-making equipment, was part of the $5 million capital improvement project for the resort. Construction of three new downhill mountain biking trails was also a part of the project.

The improvements were all part of the plan to make Powderhorn a year-round resort.

That became official on June 24 when Powderhorn opened the mountain to mountain biking.

Cyclists of all levels flocked to the resort throughout the summer to zip down the trails. The Flat Top Flyer was equipped with bike carriers and a rental shop was opened with bicycles and all the gear needed for the downhill mountain biker.

“The Grand Valley has always been a major mountain biking and tourism destination, so this will be really good for Powderhorn and the community,” Powderhorn General Manager Sam Williams said in June.

The three trails offer about 12 miles of downhill fun with two being specially built singletrack trails with jumps, berms and lots of fast two-wheel fun.

When the Flat Top Flyer was opened in December 2015, Ken Gart, one of Powderhorn’s owners, was already looking ahead to the resort welcoming cyclists.

“(Powderhorn) really has the potential to be one of the top (mountain biking) destinations in the country,” he said last December.

Additional trails are already being planned, but 2016 was a splendid start at making Powderhorn a downhill mountain biking destination.

As far as this year’s ski and snowboard season is concerned, the resort is off to a great start with another early December opening, plenty of snow and packed slopes.
— Dale Shrull

No. 7 — High school football

The Central High School football team made the Class 4A playoffs one season after playing down a classification and only three years after a winless campaign in 2013.

Led by senior quarterback E.J. Barrera and his favorite target, senior receiver Darrion Alton, the Warriors finished 6-4 during the regular season and lost to Chatfield in the first round of the playoffs.

Alton crossed the 1,000-yard mark for the second consecutive season with 1,258 yards receiving, the most of any receiver in 4A or 5A.

Fruita Monument was already an established playoff team after a Class 5A appearance in 2015. The Wildcats battled Chatfield down to the wire in 2016 before losing in the second round of the 4A playoffs.

The Wildcats went 6-4 during the regular season and edged Monarch 36-28 in the first round before falling at home to the Chargers.

Fruita rushed for 4,028 yards as team, the most in 4A or 5A, and were led by a pair of physical running backs. Braeden Graham rushed for 1,633 yards and 11 touchdowns, and Logan Triplett had 1,289 yards and six touchdowns.

In Class 3A, Palisade finished 10-1 in the regular season, but lost to Mead 44-40 in the second round of the Class 3A playoffs. It was the fourth straight season the Bulldogs have lost in the quarterfinals.

Still, several Bulldogs’ players earned all-state and all-conference honors, and quarterback P.D. Riddle ended his prep career by scoring 30 touchdowns (17 passing, 13 rushing) during his senior season.

Rifle lost in the first round of the 3A playoffs.

Delta, seeded No. 10 in Class 2A, reached the semifinals of the playoffs and fell to Kent Denver 21-14.

Four teams made the Class 1A playoffs: top-seeded Meeker, No. 3 Paonia, No. 10 Cedaredge and No. 15 Grand Valley.

Eventual state champion Strasburg beat all four of those WSC teams, starting with Grand Valley and ending in Meeker, where the Cowboys fell 34-14 in the state championship game.

In 8-man, Plateau Valley ended a long playoff drought but lost in the first round.
— Matt Meyer

No. 8 — Riley Pint comes to the Grand Junction Rockies

It was big news when the Colorado Rockies drafted a Kansas high school pitcher who could throw a baseball 102 mph.

It was big news for Grand Junction when Riley Pint inked his contract and started his career with the Grand Junction Rockies.

Pint struggled before putting together a solid outing late in the season where he shut out Orem for five innings.

Taken with the No. 4 pick in the 2016 MLB draft, the right-handed Pint finished with a 1-5 record and a 5.35 ERA.

It was also big news when some former Grand Junction Rockies started making an impact with the big club.

Outfielder David Dahl had a memorable hitting streak with the Colorado Rockies this summer, breaking the franchise record with a 17-game hitting streak. The mark is tied for the most by a rookie in Major League Baseball history.

Jon Gray, although he spent time in the big leagues last season, started his rookie year in 2016 as one of the best young pitchers in baseball.

He finished with a 10-10 record and 4.61 ERA, but struck out 185 batters in 168 innings and held opponents to a .149 batting average.

He was tied for sixth in the National League rookie of the year voting, finishing behind only one pitcher, Los Angeles’ Kenta Maeda.

Other former GJ Rockies — outfielders Ramiel Tapia and Jordan Patterson, pitchers Carlos Estevez, Scott Oberg, Eddie Butler and Matt Carasiti also saw time in the big leagues.

— Matt Meyer

No. 9 — Ryan Stephan caps great final year with CMU basketball

Colorado Mesa University big man Ryan Stephan made a big splash on a national stage after he was selected as the Division II Conference Commissioner’s Association men’s Ron Lentz Player of the Year last March.

The award for the 6-foot-11 Stephan, who is playing professional basketball for the Tokyo Excellence in Japan, was one of many for the All-American player from of Green Mountain High School in Golden. He finished second nationally in scoring at 25.6 points per game — the best single-season mark in school history according to CMU’s records — shooting 56.7 percent from the floor with 35 3-pointers.

Stephan also finished fourth in the nation in rebounding at 11.4 per game, shot 81.5 percent from the free-throw line and led Division II in double-doubles (23). His 2,073 career points ranks second in school history behind Jon Baskin, who scored 2,221 points from 1988-91. Stephan became only the third player in program history to surpass 2,000 career points.

Stephan was also selected as the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Player of the Year in early March.
— Jon Mitchell

No. 10 — Great year for high school track and field

Paonia High School’s girls track and field team reached a milestone at the Class 2A state track and field championship last May.

The Eagles easily won their fourth consecutive team title, outdistancing Wray to become the fourth team in Colorado history to win four championships in a row. The title capped a tremendous run of athletic success in the face of adversity for the Eagles, who also had teams playing for state championships in football and girls basketball while many people in the North Fork Valley had recently lost jobs due to hard economic times that had fallen on local coal mines.

A little further in between team championships was the Cedaredge boys, who claimed their first state track and field title since 1964. The Bruins were led by senior Shane Gates, who won state titles in the 110-meter hurdles (15.08 seconds), the 300 hurdles (40.42) and the high jump (6 feet, 6 inches) and was the lead leg of the Bruins’ second-place 1,600 relay team.

The Cedaredge girls’ 400 relay team won a state title, posting a state-meet record time during preliminaries (49.71 seconds). Paonia’s victories in every other relay carried the Eagles to the team title.

Montrose’s Ian Meek had a great year, winning state titles in the Class 4A 3,200 (9 minutes, 32.9 seconds) and the 1,600 (4:20.68).

Also winning individual state track titles were Palisade’s Jay Shuman in the 4A 110 hurdles (14.63) and Delta’s Lily Lockhart, who finished second in the 4A discus and first in the shot put (41 feet, 4¼ inches).

Fruita Monument’s boys got a runner-up finish from Nolan Pflug in the 5A 800 and a school-record, runner-up performance from its 1,600 relay team, which finished second to Fountain-Fort Carson by less than half a second.
— Jon Mitchell


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