With less than a month remaining in the fall schedule, Moffat County High School athletic teams have had solid seasons.
Golf and rodeo teams have finished while volleyball, cross-country and football all turn their gaze to regionals and playoffs.
The future has come early for both the girls and boys squads, as the team continues to pile up top-five finishes.
Lead by juniors Maddy Jourgensen and Chris Zirkle, the Bulldogs have claimed several No. 1 team finishes.
Young runners Alfredo Lebron and Alex McCoy have boosted the boys, while freshmen Bailey Hellander, Sassy Murray and Eryn Leonard have given the girls a balanced team.
Contributions from Nike Cleverly, Jarred Blevins and Kye Adams have given the girls and boys teams solid five-person teams.
Even without last year's 4A runner of the year, Alicia Nelson, the girls squad has been near the top in almost every meet this year.
According to a recent coaches poll from Colorado MileSplit, the Moffat County boys team is ranked fourth overall in 4A, while the girls are ranked 10th.
Meets of note:
• Sept. 26 Moffat County Invitational
Although only two schools on the girls side and five on the boys had complete teams at the meet, the Bulldogs took little time in blowing away the competition.
Both teams finished first, with Zirkle first overall for the boys, and Jourgensen first for the girls.
The girls team claimed the top five spots, while the boys took the first three spots.
• Sept. 11 Grand Junction Central Cross Country Meet
In only the third meet of the season, the cross-country team seemed to have found its pace by sweeping the highly competitive Grand Junction contest.
Zirkle and Jourgensen finished first overall, and the Bulldogs placed three runners in the top five for both races.
The boys and girls squads are all but assured a spot at the Oct. 24 regional in Aspen.
With Cleverly and Lebron recovered from injuries, both teams are in a good position to be competitive at regionals.
Record: 4-2 (3-2 in the Western Slope League)
When the season opened, the Bulldogs had the potential to surprise opponents with its senior backfield and hard-hitting defense.
But the Bulldogs have been better than advertised when healthy.
Backs Pablo Salcido and Jasen Kettle have been explosive when healthy, and contributions from underclassmen Mason Updike and Braeden Sullivan have balanced the attack.
The team opened the season 3-0, but fell to perennial powerhouse Palisade High School on Sept. 25, and was dealt a blow by Delta High School on Oct. 2.
A homecoming win against Eagle Valley got the 'Dogs back to their winning ways.
Games of note:
• Sept. 4 versus Berthoud High School
With the powerful Spartans in town to open the season, Moffat County struck early and posted a 7-0 lead at halftime.
But Berthoud came roaring back, and tied the game at 14-14 before time ran out.
The Bulldogs' defense was stout, and sacked Berthoud quarterback Zach Rubesam twice to get the ball back.
Matt Linsacum threw a touchdown pass to Pablo Salcido, and the Bulldogs kicked off their season with a win.
Final result: Moffat County 20, Berthoud 14
• Sept. 11 at Rifle
Just in case the game against Berthoud wasn't harrowing enough, the Bulldogs again pulled out an even more dramatic win, this time against conference-opponent Rifle High School.
Moffat County trailed the Bears late in the fourth quarter, but a Pablo Salcido last-resort pass to Jasen Kettle gave the 'Dogs a fresh set of downs.
Seizing the opportunity on the next play, Salcido rumbled 20 yards up the middle to give Moffat County a 21-16 lead.
But Rifle answered.
Using a potent passing attack, the Bears got deep into Moffat County territory.
With time running out, Rifle quarterback Joe Burgess threw a pass in the end zone - only to watch Moffat County's Nathan Tomlin intercept it, sealing the win.
Final result: Moffat County 21, Rifle 16
The team will travel to Steamboat Springs High School on Oct. 23.
The Sailors are the top team in the Western Slope League, sporting a perfect 6-0 mark heading into Friday night's game.
After the Sailors, it won't get much easier for the Bulldogs, when the Glenwood Springs High School Demons come to Craig.
The regular season ends Nov. 6 in Montezuma-Cortez.
The future is bright for the golf team, with three of the top four golfers returning to the team next fall.
This year, the team defied the coaches' expectations, rattling off several team scores under 250, and strong individual performances.
Junior Mark Dockstader emerged as the team's top golfer, while sophomores Parker King and Trey Jourgensen improved steadily as the year wore on.
Senior Taylor Branstetter was perhaps the team's most consistent golfer.
Meets of note:
• Sept. 10 at Yampa Valley Golf Course
Playing on their home turf, the boys varsity squad was able to secure a third-place finish with a season-best score of 232.
Dockstader and King shot matching 77s, and Branstetter was right behind them with a 78.
• Aug. 24 at Rifle Creek Golf Course
Meets don't get much closer than Dockstader and Moffat County's second-place finish in Rifle.
Both finished second by one stroke.
Dockstader finished with a 78, and Branstetter finished with an 87 to give Moffat County a score of 247.
Despite losing Eric Fleming and Troy Vernon, the MCHS School rodeo team still was able to field a competitive squad.
Taylor Vernon continued her reign as one of the team's most balanced athletes, and newcomer Wyatt Uptain filled the void left by Fleming and Troy Vernon.
Meets of note:
• Sept. 26 Moffat County High School Rodeo
Taylor Vernon and Uptain finished fifth in team roping, Gabbi Steele had a sixth-place finish in pole bending, and Vernon had a fifth-place finish in goat tying.
Uptain also finished sixth in tie-down roping.
Record (4-7-2, 3-6-1 in Western Slope League)
With perhaps the youngest team in the Western Slope League, the Bulldogs have been competitive.
Lead by strong play from Alex Perez, Tracy Mendoza and Jorge Gonzales the Bulldogs have been able to generate offense.
On defense, the team has relied upon Manuel Duarte, Cole Dubois and junior goalkeeper Dustin Carlson.
Games of note:
• Sept. 15 versus Steamboat Springs High School
With Rival Steamboat Springs in town, the Bulldogs put on a show.
Although the Sailors prevailed, 2-1, the Bulldogs' defense played perhaps its best game of the season.
For most of the game, the Sailors were unable to outmuscle a tough Moffat County midfield and defense.
Jose Olivarez scored Moffat County's lone goal, but the team was aided by Perez, Mendoza and Gonzales, who all kept the Sailors at bay with slick footwork.
Final result: Steamboat Springs 2, Moffat County 1
• Oct. 1 versus Rifle High School
The Bulldogs wasted little time in blasting the Bears, scoring two goals in the first three minutes.
Jonathan Pando and Mendoza scored to give the Bulldogs a 4-0 lead at halftime.
The win put the Bulldogs back on a winning streak after falling 12-0 to Eagle Valley High School two days earlier.
Final result: Moffat County 5, Rifle 2
The team will play at 11 a.m. today at Loudy-Simpson Park against Palisade High School.
The regular season ends Oct. 22 with a rematch against Steamboat Springs.
Record: 6-10 (3-7 in Western Slope League)
For a rebuilding year, varsity volleyball has been able to surprise.
With wins at Rifle High School and against Denver South, the team has been affective on the road.
Seniors Tasha Romney, Jordan Maneotis and Lindsey Yoast have buoyed the young team, while sophomores Annie Sadvar and Melissa Camilletti have improved steadily.
Games of note:
• Sept. 24 versus Steamboat Springs
With a packed house, the Sailors and Bulldogs resumed their rivalry.
There wasn't a single easy set, as the Bulldogs made Steamboat Springs work for every point, and vice-versa.
Although Steamboat Springs won, 3-1, every game was close.
The final set, a 25-21 Steamboat victory, never saw either team get ahead by more than 5 points.
Final result: Steamboat Springs 3, Moffat County 1
• Oct. 3 versus Delta High School
The Bulldogs didn't dawdle with Delta, putting the Panthers down in three games.
Every facet of the Bulldogs' game - hitting, serve-receive, serving - was keyed in.
Libero Jessica Matthews had a solid game for the Bulldogs.
Final result: Moffat County 3, Delta 0
The team will have two big challenges at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. today, when Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley visit Moffat County High School.
If the team defeats Delta High School on Oct. 24, it will earn a spot in the Western Slope playoffs.
Ben Bulkeley can be reached at 875-1795 or firstname.lastname@example.org.