Home, state, everywhere else in between: A look back at 2018’s Moffat County sports
Any sports reporter who tells you all they want out of covering an athletic event are scores, times or placements is probably part robot.
Yes, those things are important elements of the job, but if that’s the only part you feel is necessary to convey the amount of blood, sweat and tears that are part of the sports experience, you might want to check yourself for Skynet insignia.
As much of an introvert as I am, I can’t help but come out of my shell more and more when it comes to Moffat County High School sports. Part of that comes from feeling a more personal connection to the Bulldogs than other reporters may have — MCHS, Class of 2004, yo! — but after several years of filling this function for the Craig Press, I’ve gotten to know young athletes quite well and see them rise through the ranks of the blue and white.
The past year was one that did not disappoint in terms of achievement, as some Bulldog teams hit heights I had yet to see personally while others maintained that level of excellence I had come to expect.
I was fortunate enough to be present at some of the biggest games, tournaments and meets of the year in the last 12 months, and seeing it firsthand continually reminds me of what I enjoy about my job, because win, lose or both, there’s no missing the kind of intensity that the young men and women of Moffat County show.
Let me share with you some of the top moments of the calendar for which I was present.
Bulldog hoops is something an indoor boy like myself can always appreciate, and though I hit the road for multiple basketball games, some of the best moments for the boys in the 2017-18 school year were right in the Dog House.
I’m hard-pressed to choose between a home victory for the guys last January when they won in overtime against Grand Junction Central — which led to an unintentional cliffhanger on social media as my Facebook Live video was cut off prematurely — or a solid outing against Rifle, in which our boys bested the Bears as the student section donned hunting gear in support.
The 40-point Brent Cook shooting spree that night didn’t hurt either.
The Pepsi Center games the teams played last year were fun given the location, yet the level of competition wasn’t exactly what I viewed later in the year.
Case in point, MCHS Lady Bulldogs kept the postseason going by tearing through the district games, then keeping pace back on their home floor with regional wins to move past the Sweet 16. Though I’ve seen this before, the next stage was a new one for me. As I set up on the gym floor of University of Denver, I saw a look of confidence on the faces of Craig girls as they proceeded to school the top-ranked 3A team to move on to the semifinals for the first time in 12 years.
The streak wouldn’t continue, but Lady Dogs showed their graciousness when they joined their opponents in the next round for a post-game prayer.
The early season for 2018-19 was a fun start as I saw some neck-and-neck contests at the Glenwood Springs tournament, and I hope we see some more as the year goes.
Considering the Dogs will be on the road most of this season, I suppose I was spoiled last year with so many home events.
Most of my tournament coverage came from online info and phone calls, but I certainly wasn’t going to miss grapplers making their way to the state tournament, especially with 11 of them representing the MoCo name.
Some of the toughest competition of the winter is what you see when you’re on the side of the mats on the main floor of the Pepsi Center, but you also get a look at how athletes cope with the pressure of what, for some, is the biggest tourney of their lives.
Admittedly, Day 1 wasn’t kind to most of our wrestlers as all but four of them got knocked out of the championship brackets. Even so, every single member of the team who had to accept defeat early on did so with the kind of stoicism and dignity I’d expect to see.
For those who made it to the third day, this same Bulldog pride was on display. The last bouts of their senior season were ones I could tell were frustrating for Miki Klimper and Elias Peroulis as each of them wound up placing exactly the same as the year before, but neither of them showed anything but maturity in coming off the mat knowing they’d given their best effort.
More recently, I saw the Dogs keep their same ferocity at the Warrior Classic, an indicator that even with smaller numbers, the 2018-19 season looks bright.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that last year’s successes for Craig Middle School, Bad Dogs, and Moffat County Youth Wrestling also are a sign of the triumphs to come for MCHS.
I don’t know if I’ve ever covered a season that was as inherently bittersweet as the Bulldog boys swimming schedule.
The girls season wound up being emotional, too, but it didn’t start out that way.
One state-qualifying time after another was what I got to glimpse during the Southwestern Conference League Championships, and I figured the sky was the limit for these ladies.
Days later came the announcement that the Moffat County pool would be shutting down, which admittedly put a damper on the coming state finals with the future of Bulldog swimming in limbo.
The question running through my mind come spring — Having this hanging over their heads the whole season, how will the boys team respond?
The answer of course was that the crew was only motivated to work harder knowing the stakes.
The final home meet — until who knows when — must have been hard enough, but with nearly the whole team hitting the water at the Air Force Academy for the state championships, the sense of brotherhood was inspiring as these guys came out of the water for what they thought might be the final time of their high school careers.
However, a new winter brought with it new ways of doing things, and Moffat County girls proved they won’t let anything slow them down when they qualified for state yet again with a do-or-die relay in December in Glenwood with more state times to come.
As much as you want to remain objective as a neutral spectator, there are some times when you just can’t help but grin and root, root, root for the home team.
Such was the case for me last April when Bulldog baseball utterly owned the competition with a 15-1 win against Grand Valley that was an embarrassment of riches for the blue boys when you looked at the stat sheet.
I couldn’t help but feel like an overly proud parent in writing that every member of the rotation scored in the fourth inning, including an in-the-park homer by Krece Papierski, while pitcher Drake Doherty gained 11 strikeouts.
Track and field
Whether sprinting, jogging, jumping, or throwing, MoCo athletes are always fun to watch in the hodgepodge of activities that makes up track and field.
It’s easy enough to look up results online, but seeing it in action is what makes it count. The Clint Wells Invitational is always guaranteed to be positive for home competitors, although for me the unusually sunny conditions amounted to a Chernobyl-level sunburn.
I searched for SPF 1 million but settled for regular strength sunscreen when I hit the road after that for the Western Slope Multi-Leagues Meet, with a gold finish for the boys team and six total conference titles all I’ve come to anticipate.
You’d think being at the state finals in Denver four years in a row would be old hat by now, but with the aforementioned state swim meet happening in Colorado Springs the same weekend, it amounted to plenty of driving, yet with the level of intensity for Bulldog relay teams, in the discus rings and elsewhere in Jeffco Stadium, it was travel well worth it.
No one likes seeing kids get injured in the middle of something that’s supposed to be fun. It’s even worse when you’ve gotten to know them over the past four years.
My heart leapt out of my chest when I saw tie-down roper Kasen Brennise start his run into the arena at the Colorado State High School Rodeo Association state finals only for an errant rope to catch his ankle.
The sequence all went by in a matter of seconds, but seeing him yanked off his horse, smashing his face on his saddle and hitting the ground with a thud will play in slow-motion in my memory for a while.
At the time, I was standing right next to his mother, who wasted no time charging in even once it was clear he wasn’t getting to his feet.
I didn’t know if this was a typical injury or if it was even worse than I could have guessed, but you don’t know how glad I was to see him make his way across the stage at MCHS graduation the next day, even with a massive bandage and a walking cast.
I wasn’t surprised that Kasen and his sister Kinlie remained high enough in the rankings in multiple events to head on to nationals, but I’m still relieved that whole ordeal was not as dangerous as it could have been.
Coaching changes kept things interesting in the past fall on the gridiron known as the Bulldog Proving Grounds.
With Rifle and Delta part of the 2A Western Slope League this year, I knew it would be an uphill battle late in the season, with the competition from Aspen and Basalt remaining a threat.
I can’t say I wasn’t thrilled with the Dogs’ results at home in the early season with a blowout against Summit and a nailbiter against Steamboat Springs, but for my money, there was no beating the Bulldogs’ road game against Coal Ridge.
The Titans came to play, I’ll admit, but the battle to stay out of last place in the league was one I could tell Moffat County players weren’t about to lose. A come-from-behind win is made all the sweeter when it’s full of wily plays, and that double pass from Colby Beaver to Cale Scranton to Dario Alexander was one of the most thrilling moments of my fall.
Even with a 3-6 tally, it’s worth mentioning this was the first season since 2011 the MoCo football team has avoided being shut out for a full schedule.
The shift in coaches was also felt by Lady Bulldog volleyball, who faced off against an equally tenacious conference in the fall.
I was privy to some crucial wins throughout the season, and it’s hard not to get especially intrigued when the circumstances write you a good story.
Such was the case when MoCo girls were tied at 2-2 with Basalt for the second time in the season. After defeating the Longhorns in the fifth set at home, the heat was on the Bulldogs to do it again when they were in the Basalt gym.
Though it held me back from attending another event at the same time, I knew I couldn’t miss seeing this triumph, and long story short, they didn’t disappoint,
Not one, but two new coaches in one calendar year were in charge of Bulldog soccer teams, and though there were struggles for both of them, sometimes things just go exactly as planned.
The springtime season for girls was a 2-11 slate, both of those wins coming against Rangely. I didn’t get a chance to see the first, but a hat trick and then some by Nayeli Perez when the Panthers came to Craig showed me that when things are firing on all cylinders, MCHS soccer is a true force.
The same went for boys in the fall, exemplified in a shutout against Grand Valley in which their talents were at their utmost in the best example of teamwork I saw all fall.
Beyond practices, I never got a chance to see the MCHS girls golf team on the links last year. I can only hope the Lady Bulldogs get good weather — good luck with that — and don’t have schools reschedule on them when it comes time for their home tournament.
The outdoor climate is almost always more pleasant in the fall for the boys’ season, and this past fall was no exception.
The senior season for top shooters Torin Reed and Connor Etzler went well enough for them at home, but it was afterward that things started to come together for Torin.
After competing his first three years of high school at regionals and just missing the cut for state, I was thrilled to learn he’d be heading to the big time even if I wouldn’t be able to see him in action myself.
Early mornings, scrambling around for multiple angles, more than a few puddles just where you don’t expect them.
The conditions for shooting photos and video during cross country competitions never seem to work in my favor, but thankfully, it’s not about me.
As annoying as the soggy grass was at Gypsum Creek Golf Course or as breezy as it was at Loudy-Simpson Park, clearly Bulldog harriers put up with it better than I do, and it was no shocker for them to return to the state championships.
I’d never been to the Norris Penrose Event Center, though the stories I’d heard was of a bizarre mix of gorgeous natural surroundings and dull asphalt. Putting aside the mild allergic reaction I had to a Clif Bar while driving to the stadium — I admit I misread the ingredients, so the lawsuit probably wouldn’t stand — I was a little rattled about trying to locate the best shooting spots and found myself muscled out again and again by event staff and other photogs who beat me to them.
Even so, being there for the last big race of the fall was reward itself. I was proud to see girls take sixth as a team, while for the boys Wyatt Mortenson crossed the finish line, not only in the top 10, but with one of the best individual placements for Moffat County in six years.
Here’s hoping 2019 in sports is just as good if not better!
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