The year 2021 held plenty of pros and cons for athletes at Moffat County High School, with high-level accomplishments aplenty.
We’ll be counting down some of the most memorable competitions throughout the calendar in two installments, the first of which will focus on the tail end of the 2020-21 school year, listed in no particular order.
Sticking with it in a short season
The 2020-21 season was minimal for Craig Youth Hockey Association as travel was limited and cancellations frequent.
Games were few and far between for the 18 and under Moffat County Bulldog team, but on the rare occasion they were able to face off, they rocked it.
In a January home game against Alamosa, the Bulldogs were on fire on the ice with a 15-4 victory in which nearly every athlete on the MoCo roster added either a goal or an assist, led by Clay Durham with a hat trick and senior goalie Jack Doane anchoring the effort in the crease.
With plenty of practice time but hardly any game scenarios, the group was unable to make much of their playoff round with a 4-0 loss to Arvada.
Following his final season of high school sports, Doane went on to join the hockey program at East Texas Baptist University.
Overdrive in overtime
With Bulldog basketball held off until much later than usual, it was a different kind of season for MoCo hoops. Even so, the boys in blue proved they could take it to the limit when necessary; case in point, an extended match in Meeker.
The stakes weren’t exactly high in a non-conference game against the 2A Cowboys, but the Dogs were looking to capitalize on a win over Delta a few days prior that marked the stop of a four-game slide. MCHS led Meeker 24-14 at halftime only for the Cowboys to come out of the locker with ferocity in a second half that ended with a 48-all result to go into overtime.
MoCo boys kicked back into gear at that point, holding Meeker players to only two points while adding 11 of their own to win 59-50.
At 6-7 for the season and 2-4 in 3A Western Slope League play, boys hoops had their struggles but nonetheless sent off two seniors to college ball as points leader Wesley Counts signed with Nebraska’s Midland University, with assists leader Chris Maneotis going on to Arizona Christian University.
Swimming to state
As was the case with most sports, the amount of events and the corresponding postseason were condensed for Moffat County girls swimming, and though the entry into the 3A state meet was much tighter than they’d hoped, the Bulldogs made it happen.
The Conference Championships saw aqua athletes go all out to ensure their spot at the state meet as seniors Ellina Jones, Kelsey McDiffett, and Alexa Neton — all three multi-year state competitors — and Meeker junior Hailey Knowles drastically improved their time in the 400-yard freestyle relay for their best placement of the day in fifth and a berth at state.
The same event saw the same foursome take sixth in the 200 medley relay and Jones placing eighth in the 100 backstroke, while McDiffett earned an additional spot at state in the 100 breaststroke in ninth place.
To round out a strong season, the 400 free team went on to improve their time with their best yet at 4:07.31 to place 19th in the 3A state race.
Rowdy regional wrestling
With temporary rules requiring that only two grapplers at each weight were able to move on to the next level, the heat was on for Bulldog wrestlers in Pagosa Springs for the 3A Region 1 Tournament.
In any other year, the final outcome of second place as a team would likely see more than four athletes move on to state qualification.
Even so, 10 members of the Dog Pack were on the podium during the event, with Brody Wiser, Anthony Duran, Ryan Duzik, Michael Voloshin, and Billy Lawton all taking the bronze in their weights.
A wrestle-back round for runner-up Caden Call didn’t go his way, but then-senior Blake Juergens was able to come back from the same scenario, jumping from third to second place in the 138-pound bracket for his lone trip to state.
Kaden Hixson (113), Pepper Rhyne (160), and Blake Hill (170) each placed second in their weights at regionals, with Hixson and Rhyne each moving on to earn fifth at state.
Playoff power for girls basketball
With a consistent string of postseason appearances behind them, MoCo girls hoopsters were looking to stay in the same pattern in their first season under head coach Eric Hamilton.
A shorter playoff list of 24 teams compared to the usual 32 saw the Bulldogs right in the middle of the field, showing no fear as the 12th seed of the 3A brackets and handily defeating the No. 21 Manitou Springs Mustangs.
The home crowd helped the cause greatly in the 68-51 victory, during which several players had some of their best scoring of the season, including Cayden King at 21 points and then-senior Amber Salazar with 13.
Among many accolades she collected in her senior year, Emaleigh Papierski finished her fourth year of varsity basketball as team MVP, as well as picking up All-State honors from both Colorado High School Activities Association and Colorado Coaches of Girls Sports.
Getting the ball rolling
After a 2020 season that was promptly canceled, the Bulldog girls soccer program saw an overhaul this season under new head coach Chelsea Suazo.
The 2021 season had its own obstacles, with Colorado spring sports being extended past their usual dates as some teams saw a drop-off in athletes once the school year and graduation were completed.
The Bulldogs struggled to maintain their roster as they headed into June, but early in the schedule were some of their best games, including a season opener against Roaring Fork that saw the lone varsity score of the spring, a goal by Stephanie Esquivel in an 11-1 defeat.
No horsing around
Moffat County rodeo competitors performed consistently throughout the spring as they traversed the roads of Colorado for away events, but some of their strongest results came at home during Memorial Day weekend’s state finals in Craig.
At both the high school and junior high levels, local kids were rocking it in the four-day event.
Bull riding brothers Logan and Clay Durham each went on to compete at the national finals, with Clay finishing the season ranked third among high school athletes and Logan repeating as the middle school state champ in the discipline.
Jolene Rhyne shared a state title in junior high ribbon roping with Elbert’s Nathan Lammers, likewise qualifying for nationals in barrel racing and goat tying, and older brother Pepper Rhyne took an event win in the high school team roping with Yuma’s Coy Evans.
Cactus Barnes conquered his calf opponent for a win in the opening night of junior high chute dogging, eventually placing third to head to nationals, also qualifying as the third in the state in tie down roping.
On the shooting range portion of the rodeo circuit, Kaden Cox finished the regular season as the trap shooting state champ as well as moving along to nationals in rifle shooting ranked third.
Though she ultimately did not compete at the national level, Katie Jo Knez made the cut in high school goat tying ranked third — bolstered by a first-round win at state — showing her sportsmanship later in the summer by relinquishing her slot at nationals to a senior in their final season.
Home run derby
Bulldog baseball had its best season in ages this spring as they earned a 3A Western Slope League championship along with monster statistics.
A 15-3 record meant wins both narrow and wide — their greatest a 21-2 rout of Rifle that wrapped in five innings — but the loudest the MoCo dugout got may have been during the home doubleheader against Basalt that guaranteed their conference title.
The Dogs swept the Longhorns in style with wins of 20-5 and 15-11 in a showcase of power hitting. The first half of the afternoon saw Krece Papierski, Hunter Smilanich and Ryan Peck combine for five home runs, but Basalt started to gang up on them in the second game.
After knocking a grand slam in the first game, Papierski put another ball over the fence to mount a comeback, with Peck earning his own grand slam to clinch the victory.
Seeded ninth in the postseason, a blazing hot playoff series in Denver included a 10-5 win over Berthoud for the Dogs, only to have the schedule closed out by a 10-5 loss to Colorado Academy.
As the most prolific batter in the 3A division with a .689 average, Papierski was Western Slope Player of the Year led the team in homers with seven, Peck with four and Smilanich three. Peck led in RBIs with 33, Papierski 28 and Smilanich 21.
Papierski and Smilanich each earned CHSAA All-State distinctions, with both of them moving on to higher competition, Papierski at University of Mary in North Dakota and Smilanich at Nebraska’s Hastings College.
After a drought of six years, MoCo girls golf saw not one, but two players advance to the state championships in June.
Reagan Hafey and Taylor Powell both made it to the big time after a strong showing at the 3A Region 4 Tournament in Monte Vista. A 98 by Hafey saw her tie for sixth in the field, while Powell’s 118 put her at 19 to make it to the final round in Pueblo.
The two of them maintained their level of play at Elmwood Golf Course as Hafey shot another 98 on the first day and a 105 to tie for 34th of 84. Powell kept improving as she brought her total down from regionals for a 104 and a 107 to tie for 50th.
Finish line fanatics
A typically productive season for Bulldog track and field concluded with a pair of state championships in late June, not to mention new entries in the MoCo record books.
The state finals in Lakewood saw a repeat in the 4×200-meter relay for the Bulldogs girls, as Halle Hamilton, Emma Jones, Sadie Smilanich and Emaleigh Papierski gained the gold. With three of their crew returning from a championship round in 2019, the group was the favorite to capture it again, and they did not disappoint at a time of 1:45.46.
To add to the accomplishment, the same quartet also set a new school record in the relay with a time of 1:44.8 in Steamboat Springs midway through the season.
For Bulldog boys, Logan Hafey had his personal best saved up for the state round, earning a new spot on the record board’s 300 hurdles in the preliminary round and outdoing himself all over again in the final race that saw him clock in at 39.26 seconds and gain state champ status.
MCHS boys’ well-rounded effort throughout the season also included a strong showing with second place overall at the league meet as Logan Hafey, Ian Hafey, Cody Boswell and Ian Trevenen took a league title in the 4×400 relay; Logan Hafey in both the 110 and 300 hurdles; Evan Atkin in both the high jump and long jump; and Corey Scranton in the discus.
Craig Press will feature the second half of the 2021 sports review next week.