Below are the top sports stories for Craig and Moffat County of 2010. Debate, delight or disagree as you will.
Legandary hoops coach Craig Mortensen retires
In mid-April, long-time Moffat County High School basketball coach Craig Mortensen announced he was retiring, after a career that included numerous achievements.
Mortensen became the head coach of the MCHS boys varsity basketball team in 1976, and in 1995, he took the helm of the MCHS girls varsity basketball team.
In that time, Mortensen won a school-record 514 games and 17 league titles, and guided his teams to three Sweet 16s, two Great Eights and one Final Four appearance.
“He’s a legend, not just here in Moffat County, but in the entire state,” MCHS athletic director Richard Wildenhaus said.
Mortensen said he would miss the girls he coached and he would miss the game of basketball, but he had no regrets in stepping away from the sidelines.
The community in Craig, Mortensen said, is like none other.
In August, more than 100 people, including community members and former players and coaches, honored Mortensen with guest speakers, photos and a plaque to commemorate his time leading Bulldogs’ hoops squads.
Bulldogs girls golf team wins regional tourney
Hosting the regional golf tournament in May at their home Yampa Valley Golf Course, the Moffat County High School girls golf team was able to accomplish what no other MCHS girls golf team could.
The Bulldogs won their regional tournament and qualified, as a team, for the state tournament.
Led by head coach Ann Marie Roberts, three golfers were able to shoot under 100 — senior Heather Nicholson, 83; junior Callie Papoulas, 94; and junior Nike Cleverly, 99.
MCHS freshman Makayla Camilletti shot her best score of the year with a 106.
Qualifying as a team was great, but Nicholson had her eye on another prize — becoming the regional champion.
After 18 holes, Nicholson was tied with Rifle’s Taylor Walters.
To break the tie, the two girls went to a playoff. Nicholson won the playoff hole and took home the tournament victory.
The girls finished eighth at the state tournament, with Nicholson placing the highest, 30th.
MCHS boys track team wins league title
In the spring, head coach Todd Trapp led the Moffat County High School boys track team to a share of the Western Slope League Championship.
Trapp credited the win to increased numbers and strong performers the whole season.
After the final event, the 4-by-400-meter relay, had concluded, MCHS looked to finish in second place.
However, the Delta Relay Team didn’t hold onto their baton and was disqualified, moving the MCHS team up and allowing them to earn enough points to finish in a tie for first place with Glenwood Springs High School.
Outside of the final relay, first-place finishes by Brian Ivy in the triple jump and Jasen Kettle in the 100-meter dash helped push the Bulldogs to the top.
After the league meet, several boys went on to compete in the state track meet in Lakewood.
Ivy and Alfred Lebron finished in the top 10 in triple jump and the 3,200-meter run, respectively.
MCHS grad sets Division II collegiate record
Alicia Nelson, a 2009 Moffat County High School graduate, had to be persuaded into trying the steeplechase, a 3,000-meter race with 35 jumps.
Thankfully she agreed, as the Adams State College runner set the Division II championship meet record in the steeplechase with a time of 10 minutes and 11.48 seconds in June.
The win didn’t come easily, however.
With just three-and-a-half laps left and in fourth place, Nelson fell.
She wasn’t discouraged and she didn’t give up. She jumped up and passed all three runners ahead of her, including the reigning steeplechase champion.
Even after beating the record, Nelson said she wanted to keep getting better and plans to defend her title next year.
Chris Winder drafted by Tampa Bay Rays
In June, 2008 Moffat County High School Chris Winder was drafted in the 27th round of the first-year player draft by the Tampa Bay Rays.
After playing two years at Odessa College, a junior college in Texas, Winder was able to realize one of his long-time goals.
Winder received the call from a Rays’ scout while playing golf. He said he couldn’t sit around that day because the wait was making him anxious.
After joining the Hudson Valley Renegades, a minor league team for Tampa Bay, Winder played outfield and batted .225.
Winder also kept up what he had done so well at Odessa — stealing bases. He stole 13 bases in the Short Season Single-A minor league, tied for second on the team.
Winder will head back for 2011 spring training in March, where he hopes to meet and learn from the Tampa Bay Rays players.
Kelsey Conci qualifies for Olympic Trials
During a swim meet in Oregon, Kelsey Conci swam the 50-meter freestyle in 26.37 seconds.
Come Labor Day weekend, she learned that her time was just fast enough, by .02 seconds to be exact, to qualify for the 2012 Summer Olympic Trials.
Success was something that she was becoming accustomed to.
At the 2009 Mountain West Conference Championships, Conci, a 2008 Moffat County High School graduate and current University of Wyoming student, was able to take 11th place in the 100-meter backstroke and 12th place in the 50 meter freestyle.
The thought of swimming with the likes of Natalie Coughlin and Missy Franklin at the Olympic Trials has pushed Conci in her training and focus, she said.
Her training involves waking up at 7:30 a.m. and swimming about three miles as well as running and weightlifting.
Conci has time to prepare for the trials, which will take place in July 2012.
Bulldogs boys soccer team earns playoff spot
With a 3-1 victory over Steamboat Springs High School in the regular season finale, the Moffat County High School boys soccer team was able to earn its first playoff bid since 2005.
With an overall record of 11-4, 7-4 in the 4A Western Slope League, the team finished with the best season ever for a MCHS boys soccer team.
In his third season as head coach, Rusty Cox said he was more than excited to make the playoffs.
Senior Tracy Mendoza had all three goals in the playoff-clinching game against the Sailors, including a header off a corner kick by junior Jorge Gonzalez, to record his sixth hat trick of the season.
Fans and players stormed the field to celebrate the victory.
Although the team lost in the first round of the playoffs to Windsor High School, a game that included Mendoza recording his 30th goal of the season, the team ended their playoff draught in 2010.
MCHS football upsets rival Rifle in overtime
At Moffat County High School in late October, the MCHS football team played a thrilling game and upset Rifle High School, the Western Slope League leader, to keep the Bulldogs’ playoff hopes alive.
Rifle came in with an overall record of 6-1 and 4-0 in the league. MCHS was 3-4 overall and 2-2 in the league.
The Bulldogs were in the game the whole way and junior Jonathan Pando’s 10-yard field goal in overtime sealed the victory.
With Rifle opening the game by scoring in less than two minutes, the game looked like it could be another defeat for MCHS.
Instead, the Bulldogs kept fighting and driving the ball downfield.
After starting the season 2-4, the team won at Battle Mountain before beating Rifle. The Bulldogs finished with two strong wins over Eagle Valley and Steamboat Springs to finish the season 6-4 overall and 5-2 in the league.
Unfortunately, for the second consecutive year, the team missed the playoffs by one spot, finishing with the 17th best power ranking in Class 3A.
The top 16 teams, according to the power rankings, made the playoffs.
MCHS boys, girls cross-country teams win regional meet
In late October, both the Moffat County High School boys and girls cross-country teams won the 4A Region 5 cross-country meet in Cortez.
The win sent both teams to the state championships in Cherry Creek.
After both teams won the Rifle Invitational on Oct. 14, they headed into the regional meet with momentum.
Senior Chris Zirkle for the boys and senior Maddy Jourgensen for the girls won their respective races.
Zirkle finished in 17 minutes and 34 seconds while Jourgensen finished in an even 21 minutes.
Coming into the meet, Zirkle had won six straight races and was the defending regional champion.
Juniors Alfredo Lebron, Rene Molina, and Johnny Landa finished 6th, 16th and 17th, respectively, for the boys team.
Freshman Brenna Ciesco finished 6th for the girls, while senior Nike Cleverly finished 11th and sophomore Bailey Hellander finished 18th.
Zirkle and Lebron finished 3rd and 4th at the state meet, respectively, with Zirkle running 16 minutes and 27 seconds and Lebron just behind at 16 minutes and 27.4 seconds.
Jourgensen was the top finisher for the girls at the state meet, taking home 11th place with a time of 19 minutes and 58 seconds.
Little Snake River Valley football team wins Wyoming state title
In the game of six-man football, the Little Snake River Valley School reigned supreme in Wyoming.
The school from Baggs, Wyo., capped its perfect season with a 67-12 rout of the Hanna Elk Mountain Medicine Bow Miners in mid-November at the University of Wyoming.
What made the season more special was that it was only the Rattlers’ second year with a football program after the program had been disbanded for 51 years.
Baggs, which is about 35 minutes north of Craig, has about 350 people in town. The biggest class at the high school is around 20 students.
The team was able to celebrate the win with Baggs residents when they put the game ball and a golden shovel, in which they had burned the results of every game of the season into the handle, into the school’s trophy case.