As 2017 begins, the clock resets as we ready for more moments of sporting greatness. Before that, we look back on the latter half of the past year, celebrating all that was noteworthy in Moffat County athletics from July to December.
Spring and summer in the arena saw huge successes for Moffat County riders and ropers, as the regular season concluded with Garrett Uptain and Trent Vernon each winning a state title in saddle bronc riding and tie down roping, respectively, while Yampa’s Jace Logan also won a championship buckle on behalf of the Moffat County High School team in steer wrestling.
At state, Kinlie Brennise capped off the season as reserve champion in all-around points for high school girls. When she moved on to the national finals in Gillette, Wyoming, she won the opening round of breakaway roping but didn’t have quite the same momentum from there.
Another Northwest Colorado highlight was Hayden’s Keenan Hayes capturing state and national titles in junior high bull riding.
Uptain, Vernon, Dusty Taylor and Cutter Barnes each also made it to high school nationals as their last hurrah before college rodeo. Taylor signed with University of Wyoming in Laramie, Wyoming; Uptain with Sheridan College in Sheridan, Wyoming; Vernon with Frank Phillips College in Borger, Texas; and Barnes went on to compete with Central Arizona College in Casa Grande, Arizona.
Kinlie and Kasen Brennise each went on to compete in the high school season in the fall, the sibling duo topping the rankings in team roping, as well as Kinlie first in all-around points, a position they’ll look to defend this coming spring.
The year 2016 was a memorable one for Craig bowler Sheyenne Cromer. In addition to winning the Colorado Pepsi Youth Championship Tournament for girls 20 and under in April in Fort Collins — at which she competed alongside fellow Northwest Colorado rollers Trenton Hillewaert and Chase Peed — Cromer also made it to the top tier: the Junior Gold Championships in July in Indianapolis.
Cromer tied for 476th out of 792 competitors in the girls 20 and under division, which included four days with four games each in the opening rounds.
“I’m going to keep working at it,” she said of her progress in the lifelong sport. “I want to be a role model for kids in Craig to let them know they can make it far.”
A spring full of rain and snow proved a trial for Moffat County High School girls, who had the honor of hosting the regional tournament earlier in the year, Tané Otis leading in scores throughout the season. The weather was better during the summer and fall, though MCHS boys also struggled in their season, with Mike Bingham and Torin Reed only a few strokes off qualifying for state, where Bingham, a senior, had competed the past two years.
Much of the news at Yampa Valley Golf Course had to do with the clubhouse, as the closure of Tin Cup Grill in winter 2015 led to the need to provide a new restaurant.
Mulligan’s Bar and Grill opened in the space leading up to the new season only to shutter along with the course in the fall due to owners Brett and Stephanie Etzler unable to handle operating the location along with their first eatery, Carelli’s Pizzeria and Pasta.
The YVGC board is still seeking tenants for the space.
A young roster for the MCHS girls team saw the Bulldogs go 0-14 in the spring, while the boys in the fall were about in step with the prior season, 7-8 overall, tying for sixth in the 3A Western Slope League, seniors Ulises Silva and Marco Hernandez eligible for the 3A/4A Western Slope Emily Johnson Memorial All-Conference Game in June.
Running concurrent with the boys’ schedule was a new program for the region as the Colorado Northwestern Community College men’s and women’s soccer teams took form as the first sports teams for the college’s Craig campus.
The teams signed primarily MCHS grads, including Class of 2016’s Hannah Walker, Jennifer Aguirre, Wendy Gomez, Amairani Acosta, Hugo Snyder, Diego Quezada, Alejandro Almaraz and Marco Ayala, among other athletes.
A small bench worked against the Spartan squads, which each were 0-13 in their opening seasons. Even so, CNCC garnered several accolades from Scenic West Athletic Conference, including Miguel Rodriguez an All-Conference First Team selection for men and Walker and Bethanie Najera gaining Honorable Mention among women.
Head coach Lance Noble was also voted president for men’s and women’s soccer through Scenic West Coaches Association for the sophomore season, for which CNCC plans to offer athletic scholarships.
Noble said the goal is to earn a solid name for CNCC soccer as the program continues to build.
“There’s a lot of things that we need to do to get us out there nationally, get us recognized and increase our reputation. Our job as coaches is to make sure we’re pushing the right kids along,” he said.
Erin Knez stepped into the head coach role for MCHS volleyball following Starla Jensen stepping down from the post. The Lady Bulldogs were 5-17 on the year, roughly about the same tally from the previous season.
Several seasons of the girls team outshining the boys flipped this year as the male long-distance runners proved to be an intimidating group along the Western Slope throughout the season.
Boys took second place at the 3A Region 1 meet in Delta, with girls placing fourth to put both groups in the running for the state championships.
After placing sixth at regionals, senior Riley Allen led the Bulldogs in 20th of 157 at state, also picking up an All-State Honorable Mention through Colorado High School Activities Association.
A younger girls team had multiple harriers jockeying for the top spot throughout the season, with Hayden’s Makenna Knez leading during regionals in sixth only for Liberty Hippely to jump in front at state in 56th, showing the group’s propensity for the future.
After two seasons that both included conference championships and postseason games, Moffat County gridiron fought its way to a 5-4 finish and second place in the 2A Western Slope League, relinquishing the title to Basalt.
The Dogs lost multiple players to injury from the first game on, forcing coaches to move around their athletes, who adjusted as best they could to the changes on the gridiron.
Despite the results not working out as well as past seasons, Moffat County had several standouts as quarterback Keenan Hildebrandt became the third consecutive MCHS player selected for the Colorado High School Coaches Association All-State game, while running back and fellow senior Eddie Smercina earned a spot in the Blue-Grey Football All-American Bowl hosted Jan. 21 at the Raiders’ Oakland Coliseum.
Also, receiver and linebacker Miki Klimper was a CHSAA All-State Honorable Mention as a league leader in tackles.
The final month of 2016 included multiple important moments as winter teams began their seasons. Noteworthy December stories include:
• Steve Hafey, “Voice of the Bulldogs,” passed away Dec. 9 at the age of 75, one day before an induction into Colorado Football Officials Association Hall of Fame. Hafey was known for his dedication to sports as a referee, coach and radio announcer through KRAI.
• After two seasons of drought, MCHS girls swimming secured a spot at the state finals as Steamboat Springs’ Annika Fahrner hit qualifying times early in the year in three separate events competing for the Moffat County group.
• MCHS wrestlers have come out fighting to start the season, winning all but three team duals so far, while varsity’s first tournament, Central’s Warrior Classic, ended with Chris Moschetti in fifth place. Likewise, Isiaih Herod has swept three straight JV tourneys.
• Moffat County girls basketball look to defend their league title this season, jumping out to a 7-1 start under new coach Kenley Nebeker. Bulldog boys have had a tougher start to the schedule, now 2-6. However, both teams completed the calendar year with heads held high thanks to wins at the Pepsi Center against Coal Ridge, Mattie Jo Duzik and Justin Dugan named game MVPs.