Girl power: Moffat County competitors vie for honor of Outstanding Female Athlete
For the Craig Press
On May 17, Moffat County High School acknowledges some of its best and brightest student-athletes for the Class of 2021 with the Lewis “Dude” Dent Memorial Award ceremony.
The namesake of the top accolade for sporty students is Lewis Dent, a 1939 Craig High School graduate well known for his proficiency in multiple sports, including football, basketball and track. An athlete at Colorado State University — then Colorado A&M — he went on to enlist in the United States’ military effort in World War II, and was killed in action in 1944.
An award bearing Dent’s name has been part of MCHS sports since 1957, later followed by Outstanding Female Athlete in 1977, both celebrating well-rounded pupils who have demonstrated excellence in the classroom and in athletic competition.
The Craig Press will showcase this year’s nominees leading up to the award ceremony.
Alayna Behrman — Cross country, track and field
There’s been a lot of steps during Alayna Behrman’s high school athletic career.
Behrman has been a fixture of both cross country and track and field, spending plenty of time running, whether in long intervals across varied terrain or in short bursts before leaping into a sand pit.
She took up track her freshman year, specializing in events like the hurdles and triple jump, and by the next fall she was on a new path by joining the long-distance team. The new sport helped push her along once the track season came around again, as she was a state alternate in the triple jump and after narrowly making the cut for the big event, she leapt from a ranking of 18th to No. 10.
Behrman noted that she especially likes the prospect of steady improvement in both sports.
“I like the challenge; not every meet is going to be your best meet, but you just have to push through and work harder for next time,” she said.
Her junior season may have been her personal best in XC, joining the varsity girls squad at both regionals and the state championships, which she repeated as a senior, despite a significant gap in spring 2020 as the COVID pandemic canceled the track season.
“We lost a lot by losing our junior season, but hopefully this season will make up for it,” she said of her senior season, which, thanks to significant rescheduling, will extend past graduation.
Aside from achieving the role of salutatorian for the Class of 2021, Behrman’s perseverance paid off as she committed earlier this year to the track and cross country programs at Kansas Wesleyan University, where she will major in biology.
“I wasn’t even going to do track my freshman year, but my friends told me to, and it was well worth it because now I have four more years of it,” she said.
Kelsey McDiffett — Cross country, swimming, track and field
Few athletes have seen more state-level competitions than Kelsey McDiffett.
After attending 10 state events across three sports in her four years at MCHS, she has plentiful varsity letters and even more fond experiences.
“There’s a lot of memories, and it’s been fun, but it went by fast,” she said.
McDiffett ran cross country from freshman year on, part of the regional group and state team each time, growing from being on the cusp of the top 5 female harriers to being leader of the pack as a junior and senior, placing in the top 10 at regional meets both times, as well as the top 40 in state on each occasion.
In track, she went the distance all the way to state in 4×800-meter relays as both a freshman and sophomore, placing eighth each time.
However, it was another sport that held her focus the most.
“Swimming is my favorite because I had to work a lot more to get to state since we didn’t have a pool,” she said. “I guess I could have just done basketball, but I wanted to stick with it.”
Hours of dedication in the MoCo pool her freshman year amounted to state qualification in the 100-yard breaststroke, 200 individual medley and 200 freestyle relay.
“It was really exciting just because no one thought we’d be going at all,” she said.
The school board was forced to close the facility. Even so, swimmers have spent the past few seasons using the Meeker rec center as their home base, and McDiffett noted that the increased travel time served as another way to bond.
She was back in the same individual events at state the following two years as well as relays, and though it came down to the wire in her pandemic-impacted senior season, she was part of the 400 free relay earlier this year along with Ellina Jones, Alexa Neton and Hailey Knowles.
Taking on soccer to round out her senior year rather than track, McDiffett said she’ll likely be participating in fewer sports at the college level while she studies nursing at University of Colorado-Colorado Springs.
While she needed less motivation for swimming, she noted that it was her teammates who made sports like cross country and track all the better.
“Running a lot of miles every day isn’t very fun, but with the right company it’s not bad,” she said.
Emaleigh Papierski — Cross country, basketball, track and field
There’s been more than a few struggles in Emaleigh Papierski’s athletic career, but there’s been just as many successes along the way.
Papierski has been competing at the highest level each fall, winter and spring ever since her freshman year at MCHS, a crucial component of the cross country, basketball and track and field teams.
Her XC run included appearances at regionals and state both her freshman and junior years, forgoing the sport her sophomore season to train for basketball and as a senior due to a summertime injury.
However, she suited up for varsity hoops all four years, including a freshman season that included highlights like the Lady Bulldogs’ most recent 3A Western Slope League title and a postseason push that got them as far as the 2018 state semifinals.
The girls basketball team made it into the playoffs each of the past four seasons under three different coaches, though Papierski has been on the roster all the while and her final season may have been her best individually as she led in total points (195), rebounds (94) and tied in steals (43), helping her to pick up the Most Valuable Player award.
“This season I played every game like it was my last, because COVID made me realize how lucky we were to get that season. I played, had some fun and got blessed enough to get that,” she said.
Papierski was also named All-Conference First Team, All-State Honorable Mention by Colorado High School Activities Association and All-State by Colorado Coaches of Girls Sports. CCGS typically hosts an All-State game specifically for graduating seniors, though the organization was forced to cancel this year’s event, much to Papierski’s disappointment.
“I was looking forward to wearing my uniform one more time,” she said.
She added that her teammates and coaches made the basketball season special.
“Our energy was really strong in every practice and that just made the year go by really fast because we were a really close group,” she said.
Though she liked the idea of competing in college basketball, Papierski committed to track at University of Colorado-Colorado Springs a sport in which she earned her biggest achievement.
As a freshman and sophomore, she was part of the maximum amount of state track and field events — including sprints, relays and long jump — though her highlight was as the anchor in the 4×200 relay in 2019, gaining the gold alongside Halle Hamilton, Emma Jones and Stephenie Swindler.
While the foursome had their hopes of a repeat championship dashed in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic, Papierski, Hamilton and Jones are anticipating the possibility of one last big win this June.
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