A year of results to remember: Top 10 sports stories of 2017
January 7, 2018
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — It's hard to imagine a year of sports that could be more juxtaposed than 2017 was in Routt County. Some of the teams from the county's three high schools fought through seasons as long and as frustrating as could be imagined.
Two basketball teams went winless last winter, and a football team won just once this fall.
Several of the area's top contenders to make the Olympic team withdrew from their competitions with injuries before they could even make a serious run at the Games.
Aspen leaves were budding on Closing Day at Steamboat Ski Area and just a handful of runs were ready on Opening Day, which makes sense because it felt like it didn't snow between about mid-February and nearly Christmas Day.
What snow that did fall was enough to yet again cause serious mudslide concerns on Steamboat Springs' iconic downtown ski slope, Howelsen Hill.
The Rockies bombed out of the playoffs. The Broncos just bombed, and the Nuggets and Avalanche were more than forgettable. Even the magic of the University of Colorado's thrilling 2016 football season vanished to a bowl-less 2017 campaign.
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The Patriots won the Super Bowl, and the Yankees traded a bag of old balls and a tub of Gatorade for one of the game's best players.
What went wrong in 2017? More like what didn't.
Yet, the past 12 months brought a seemingly unprecedented run of sporting success to the county, dramatically more ups than downs, and dramatically higher highs than the lowest lows.
The day Steamboat Springs snowboarders Matt Ladley and Taylor Gold stood together on the podium at X Games Aspen after the men's snowboard superpipe event is an all-timer for local snow sports athletes.
The Steamboat Springs, Soroco and Hayden high schools enjoyed best-in-about-a-decade seasons in wrestling, basketball, hockey, track and field, lacrosse, tennis, cross country, football and soccer.
The city's semi-pro junior hockey league team, the Wranglers, made the league championship finals in its first season, and Howelsen Hill played host to a major international Nordic combined event for the first time since 2010.
New stars emerged from the town's ranks of competitive skiers — athletes who won't just make the Olympic team but who will travel in February to the 2018 Winter Olympics as strong contenders to bring home medals.
Even one of the basketball teams that was winless last season won a game early this season, snapping a 39-game streak.
In 2017, there were some dark moments, some unhappy stories, but for every one, there were two of the most thrilling locals are likely to encounter — big plays, big scores, big moments, big adventures.
It's enough to make compiling a list of 10 a daunting task, but let's count them down.
With World Championships every other year and the Olympics every four, there's often a fairly predictable rhythm to the cycle of competitive snow sports athletes. They go hard for the back-to-back-to-back years with big events, and retirements usually come in the off year, so, several major retirements in the midst of the big-event cycle from local athletes came as at least a little bit of a shock.
Justin Reiter was the biggest. A 2014 Winter Olympian and a World Championships silver medalist, Reiter reigned as the nation's top Alpine snowboarder and had a solid shot at making the 2018 Olympic team. He said the fire burned out, however, and retired during the summer.
Anna Marno spent much of the past decade as the only Steamboat Springs skier on the U.S. Alpine Ski Team. She retired in the spring after the 2016-17 season. Moguls skier Lane Stoltzner also stepped away. She spent several years on the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team.
9. Kim Hess adds to her tally
Steamboat Springs mountain climber Kim Hess took a huge step in her quest to climb the Seven Summits, taking a December trip to Antarctica to summit Mount Vinson. The 16,050-foot-tall peak was her sixth of the summits, which represent the tallest peak on each continent.
One more great highlight awaited, but everything truly came together in the final game of the regular season for the Steamboat Springs High School boys soccer team in the fall. Sailors junior Murphy Bohlmann scored two goals — tying, then setting the school record in scoring — to help Steamboat to a 4-1 win against rival Battle Mountain.
On paper, the win didn't change a lot. The team was already in the playoffs and already guaranteed to finish second behind the Huskies in the Western Slope League. But, it was oh-so-sweet for the Sailors. They carried that momentum into the playoffs, pulling off a major upset to beat Golden, 1-0, in the first round before finally bowing out against Colorado Academy, 4-0.
This is a bit of a speculative choice, but a story that should resonate in Steamboat for generations. Steamboat's long been a major hub for Nordic combined in the United States, starting both boys and girls in the sport. There's never been an option for young women to compete in the sport at the international level, but that's changing quickly.
A women's Nordic combined national championship was contested for the first time last summer, and the sport could debut in the Winter Olympics by 2022.
Those decisions open up an Olympic avenue for many young Steamboat girls where there wasn't one before, and the city is sure to have some athletes follow that path.
Major Nordic combined events were once a staple of Steamboat Springs winters, but rising costs and aging facilities helped keep World Cup and Continental Cup events from returning. That changed in December. The United States needed a venue to host a Continental Cup event and using its HS75 hill — a small hill by international competition standards — Steamboat rose to the challenge with three days of competition.
Norway's Mikko Kokslien dominated the events, winning all three, but several young Americans shined, as well. Wisconsin skier Ben Loomis was fifth in all three events, and Steamboat's Jasper Good had his best-ever weekend of results, earning two top-10 finishes.
The high school state wrestling tournament in Denver has been hit or miss for local teams for much of the last decade. Steamboat, Hayden and Soroco high schools haven't combined to send more than two wrestlers to the finals in at least 10 years.
In February, all three had an athlete breakthrough, however. Hayden Johnson made the finals for the second consecutive year for Steamboat. Jace Logan did the same for Soroco, and Hayden got a finalist in Christian Carson.
All three wrestlers lost to finish second in the state, but it still represented a huge night for local high school sports.
It's not fair to lump the county's major high school track and cross country accomplishments into one number, but there's so much to cover this year. It was a season like none other for local runners.
It started at the state track meet in Lakewood in May. There, Soroco's Ben Kelley won every event he entered, bringing home three state championships in the 3,200-, 1,600- and 800-meter runs. It was a thoroughly dominating performance. The school got another state championship in the high jump from sophomore Grant Redmond. Hayden High School picked up a championship from freshman Hannah Wilkie in the 800. Steamboat also scored five medals at state.
In the fall, Kelley won the Class 2A boys state cross country championship. The Steamboat girls team, meanwhile, placed second, its highest finish in 25 years.
It was a very good year for the runners, and 2018 shouldn't be any different.
That Steamboat Springs moguls skier Jaelin Kauf would be competitive in 2017 wasn't a surprise to anyone tracking the sport. Just how competitive she was may have been.
New to the team at the start of the year, she leapt to the top of it by the end. She won her first World Cup in February while competing in Japan, then won a medal at the World Ski Championships in dual moguls in March. She capped it all by winning a national championship on home snow at Steamboat Ski Area.
She's off to a red-hot start to the Olympic season, too. She was fifth in her first World Cup, she won the second of the season, then placed second in the third, all but guaranteeing herself a spot at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Snow will stop falling before they stop telling stories about the 2017 Soroco High School football season. It started average enough, with a few nice wins and a few painful losses, but after squeaking into the 16-team state playoffs with the No. 14 seed, the Rams caught fire.
They went on the road to beat their first-round opponent, No. 3 Merino, 42-32. They then traveled again to beat Mancos in the state quarterfinals, 40-0. The run finally ended in a home game against West Grand. The stands were packed for what was likely the biggest game the field in Oak Creek has ever seen. Soroco led in the fourth quarter, but lost, 38-28.
It was the best season in school history, and the Rams' first playoff win in 50 years.
Leading the way was tailback and linebacker Jace Logan, who had as strong a season as any Routt County football player has had in nearly a decade. He racked up 3,230 yards rushing and 47 touchdowns, both marks that were best in the state.
Steamboat Springs halfpipe snowboarders Matt Ladley and Taylor Gold both came to Aspen for the Winter X Games looking to prove something.
Ladley was the reigning champ and hoped to prove he belonged among the best in the sport. Gold was hoping to show he was back from a tough injury that ended his previous season. They both realized those goals in a big way.
Gold was the first to lay down a big run under the lights and in front of ESPN's cameras. He then had to wait for all his competitors, the best in the world, to try to knock him off the podium.
They couldn't, and he ended up third. Ladley did edge out his Steamboat teammate to place second behind Australian champ Scotty James.
Steamboat athletes have gotten big results at X Games and elsewhere before, but there was just something special about having two local athletes stand on the podium at one of their sport's biggest events.