Pro Challenge tops big year of sports in 2015

Steamboat Pilot & Today sports staff
BMC Racing cyclist Taylor Phinney celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win Stage 1 of the 2015 USA Pro Challenge in Steamboat Springs. Phinney's exhilarating finish was the highlight of a week of activities built around the race's two-stage stop in Steamboat.
Joel Reichenberger

2015 was a big year for sports in Steamboat Springs, from the city’s hosting of the opening stage of this year’s Pro Challenge to one of the best season performances in recent memory from the Steamboat Springs High School girls volleyball team. Today, the sports staff of Steamboat Pilot & Today takes a look back at the stories that made us stand up and cheer through the past year.

Pro Challenge takes over town

For one long weekend in August, Steamboat truly was Bike Town USA. The city played host to the USA Pro Challenge for the third time in the race’s five-year history, but this time was different, as Steamboat Springs was the site of two stages, including the race’s start.

The race closed down local roads and Lincoln Avenue in downtown entirely and caused plenty of traffic delays, but local cycling fans got a unique, up-close view of the race.

Professional cycling teams began descending on the Yampa Valley a week before the race and trained for the local terrain. The first stage, on Aug. 17, included two laps around the Coal Mine Loop and was highlighted by three short but sharp climbs. The second, a day later, sent the race out of town, up Rabbit Ears Pass and on its way to Arapaho Basin.

Everyone — from racers to their support crews to local fans — expected Stage 1 to prove a relatively easy course with a sprint finish. Those hills, however, took a greater toll than expected, culling the field. BMC Racing’s Taylor Phinney hung tough with the small lead group, then won a dramatic sprint to the finish in front of a roaring crowd that had spent most of the day downtown.

Sailors win the Western Slope

The Steamboat Springs High School volleyball team had one of the best regular seasons any local team has had in recent years, going 19-3 to win the Western Slope League and earn a top seed in the regional tournament.

It was the program’s first league championship since 2002 and the product of a special class of 10 seniors with diverse skills, many of whom had played together throughout their careers.

The story ended too soon, a few points shy of the regional championship, but the Sailors’ run was definitely a 2015 highlight.

Ski racers get new venue

Mount Werner received a facelift during the summer of 2015, a change that will greatly benefit local ski racers. The Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club and Steamboat Ski Area partnered to build a new venue for racers. The product of a large fundraising campaign, All Out is the $2.35-million trail. It combines some existing terrain with some new along the Sitz and See Me trails. What really sets it apart for club skiers is the snowmaking, designed to be icier, thus faster. The venue should be a factor in Steamboat for years to come.

Hannah Kearney takes victory lap

A legend of freestyle skiing took her final turn in the spotlight at March’s U.S. National Freestyle Skiing Championships, contested at Steamboat Ski Area. After winning 43 World Cup events, two Olympic medals and eight World Championship medals, Hannah Kearney skied her final competitive run in Steamboat. She won the weekend’s moguls competition. Troy Murphy won on the men’s side, then Nessa Dziemian and Thomas Rowley won the dual moguls comp several days later. An aerials competition between the moguls action provided its own compelling storylines, as Mac Bohonnon and Ashley Caldwell, both from the same Connecticut town, claimed the titles.

Tatum Burger wins big

She went undefeated through her entire freshman tennis season, winning the championship in the state’s most difficult singles division. So what’s next for freshman phenom Tatum Burger? Who knows? But one thing is assured: Her initial foray into high school tennis was a powerful statement.

Burger went into the state tournament 13-0, and the pressure of that stage did nothing to shake her, as she won all four matches there. The final was thrilling, as she lost the first set, then bounced back in a big way, winning 4-6, 6-1, 6-0, to finish a stupendous individual season.

High school coaches step down

With some exceptions, high school coaches tend to come and go. Last year, two of those exceptions stepped away from local programs.

Shawn Baumgartner coached the Hayden High School football program to a 70-50 record in 12 years before stepping away in August. He’s not done with the sport, however. He helped coach the Steamboat Springs High School football team this fall.

Steamboat Springs basketball coach Luke DeWolfe also stepped away in 2015. He had coached the program for seven seasons, winning 99 games. He did stay on as the Sailors’ athletic director, which offers a more family friendly schedule.

Triple Crown kept out

It was a summer of “will they or won’t they” as local government officials and residents debated allowing perennial Steamboat summer staple Triple Crown to bring its baseball and softball tournaments to Emerald Park.

The idea of expanding tournaments into the park has long been contentious, especially for residents of Pamela Lane, which offers the park’s only vehicular access. That proved true again this go-around, and the City Council relented, voting unanimously in July to deny the proposed change. This may not be the end, however, as the city is pursuing an additional way to access the parking lot.

Trail network expands

The building of bike trails is a story that extends beyond 2015 in Steamboat Springs, but the year did see plenty of development.

There were two new trails on Emerald Mountain. NPR is a downhill-only mountain bike trail breaking off of Blackmere Drive and featuring smooth, banked turns and jumps. Wild Rose is a 1.44-mile cross-country, multi-use trail that cuts an easier route to the backside of the mountain.

A 1.5-mile trail also opened connecting the Steamboat II, Heritage Park and Silver Spur subdivisions west of Steamboat Springs, and Steamboat Ski Area added three trails to its downhill bike park on Mount Werner — two beginner trails and an intermediate trail.

Girls soccer team wins playoff game for first time in decade

The Steamboat Springs High School girls soccer team ended a nine-year drought by defeating Montrose, 2-0, in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs in May. It was the Sailors’ first playoff win since 2006.

The Sailors, seeded No. 20, pulled the upset with goals from Brooke Buchanan and Natalie Bohlmann and standout goalkeeping by Ocoee Wilson.

A heartbreaking 3-2 double-overtime loss to Battle Mountain ended the team’s season a week later in the second round of the tournament.

Amy Charity rides among the elite

Steamboat Springs has produced and is home to far more than its fair share of elite athletes. Amy Charity was one such athlete who enjoyed a heck of a year in 2015.

Charity got into the professional cycling game late in life, at 36 years old. She’s made the most of it, though. She helped current team, Optum Pro Cycling, win the United States Team Time Trial National Championships in South Carolina in April. That earned her the chance to ride in the World Championships in Richmond, Virginia, in the fall. Charity also got to compete in the inaugural women’s USA Pro Challenge, supporting her team in the race’s three stages.

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