Routt County high school athletes of the year
May 27, 2017
Male Athlete of the Year: Ethan Riniker — Steamboat Springs
Midway through the season, the Steamboat Springs High School boys basketball team was going precisely nowhere. The squad had started the season with high enough hopes, but by the end of January, it was mired in misery. It had won only twice in the month of January and lost nine times, including games that seemed so winnable, against the teams filling out the bottom part of the Western Slope League standings.
To be fair, the Sailors were filling out the bottom part of the Western Slope League standings.
It was a situation that allowed Steamboat Springs senior Ethan Riniker to be at his best, both with the team on the court and with the team off of it.
Riniker averaged 15.8 points per game for his senior season but upped that for a furious run through February, which did more than simply lift his team out of its losing streak.
The Sailors were at 2-4 in the league and 6-11 overall but won six consecutive Western Slope games, avenging each of their league losses along the way. That streak pulled the team out of the bottom of the league and into a tie for first, with Glenwood Springs.
Riniker was the essential component. He poured in 19 in a 48-47 win against Eagle Valley. He scored 22 to beat Rifle, accounting for 63 percent of his team's 35 points that night. Two days later, he scored 23 in a 35-23 win against Rifle.
All told, he scored 32 percent of his team's points on the season. He was first on the team in scoring, of course, plus first in rebounds, assists and blocks. He was second in steals.
It was all enough to push the once-listless Sailors into the state playoffs. It was also enough to earn Riniker Player of the Year honors from the Western Slope League.
There were many great performances this year in Routt County, many great athletes, but there were precious few who displayed the leadership, the skill and the drive Riniker did as he put his team on his back and willed it to a league title.
For that, he's the Routt County boys Athlete of the Year.
Female Athlete of the Year: Chloe Veilleux — Soroco
Things weren't looking good midway through the Class 2A state cross country meet for Soroco sophomore Chloe Veilleux.
She'd come to the meet hoping to win, but 3-kilometers into the 5K race, she was 100 meters behind the winner. That's no small feat to make up.
By the time she entered the finishing stadium, however, she'd more than made up that distance and strode out ahead of the pack. She'd overtaken the leader with 200 meters to go, then pushed ahead, sprinting through the stadium and to the finish and, in the process, grabbing a state cross country championship — a first for herself and for the Rams' program.
That may have been the pinnacle of the season for Veilleux, but it was also just the start, as she went on to excel on the basketball court in the winter, then on the track in the spring, proving a uniquely gifted and motivated athlete at every turn.
She fit effortlessly into the plan for the Soroco girls basketball team. Playing off senior DaKota Bruner, Veilleux was actually the leading scorer, pouring in 15.5 points per game for a team that went 18-2 during the regular season. She ended up fourth on the team in rebounding, grabbing 4.5 boards per game. She led the team in assists, dishing more than twice as many as any teammate and racking up the most made 3-point shots, as well. She was also second in steals, one behind teammate Mattie Rossi.
Some of her best games came in the biggest moments. She scored 27 in a district playoff loss against Meeker, then 26 in a big win against Rangely and 24 in a crucial rivalry game against West Grand.
Still, her most interesting season may have come in the spring, during track.
She proved a versatile enough athlete to qualify for state in five different events, one more than the maximum she was allowed to compete in at any one meet.
So, she had to cut an event. The 100-meter hurdles was the choice, as it was the only one in which she was not expected to medal.
That proved an easy decision compared to her next one. After placing third in the 3,200 and eighth in the 300 hurdles, she scratched from her last two events, the 800 and 1,600 runs, where she had very strong chances to medal, because they were scheduled for Sunday, and she doesn't believe in competing on Sundays.
No matter what anyone else does on Sundays, it's hard not to appreciate a teenager on the verge of so much success instead choosing to honor her beliefs.
It's not because her decisions on that one day or in spite of them that Veilleux is the 2017 Routt County girls Athlete of the Year. It's because that day would have likely been just another day so similar to those she did enjoy during the 2016-17 season — one of intense passion and impressive results.
Steamboat Breakout Athlete of the Year: Riley Schott
It wasn't just that Riley Schott proved herself an exceptional scoring threat in her first season on the Steamboat girls lacrosse team, though she certainly proved that. She scored 72 goals, good for second in the state during the regular season. Her teammate, Lucy Shimek, was first, with 77.
The bigger advantage of having Schott burst onto the scene was that it made the whole team better. Neither Schott nor Shimek obtained those gaudy stats alone, but together, they proved a one-two punch that pushed the Sailors toward the best season in the program's history.
Soroco Boys Athlete of the Year: Jace Logan
Jace Logan is aggressively competitive, yet shockingly humble; incredibly gifted, yet charmingly raw. The Soroco sophomore followed up a very strong freshman season with a thoroughly dominating encore.
He was a wrecking ball in football, amassing stunning stats for the playoff-bound Rams. He rushed the ball to the tune of 13.2 yards per carry, easily the most in the state based on the number of carries he racked up, 141.
All his offensive stats were among the best in the state, not just for 8-man football, but for all classes.
And that was all accomplished before he hit the wrestling mat, where perfection only barely eluded him. He finished his season with a 44-2 record at 152 pounds. His only rival was Norwood senior Hayden Harris, who defeated Logan in the state championship match. Even against Harris, however, Logan finished the season 2-2.
It's surely just the start for Logan, and that means he'll be a joy to watch in Oak Creek for the next two years.
Hayden Boys Athlete of the Year: Christian Carson
Carson's senior season of football was slowed by a hamstring strain so nasty it left his leg bruised. He wasn't about to miss his final wrestling season, and when he got the chance, he certainly made the most of it.
He finished second in regionals but was at his best a week later at the state tournament. He won his first two matches there by pin, then ran into a closer match in the state semifinals. A loss in that same round in his junior season tormented him, and his senior season was, in large part, a quest to right that wrong. He did just that, winning 8-4 to advance to the championship.
He lost there, 3-2, in a gritty, tight match against John Mall senior Jason Murphy.
Carson followed that up with a strong track season, where he challenged to make state in both the discus and shot put. The highlight, however, was his performance at the state wrestling tournament. He was on a mission, and he achieved it.
Hayden Girls Athlete of the Year: Darian Murphy
Murphy has been a constant for Hayden High School athletics throughout her four years at the school. This season, she led the volleyball team in kills, racking up 60. She then led the basketball team in scoring, averaging 9.3 points per game, and in rebounding, pulling down 4.3 per game. She was also second in assists.
Finally, in track, she was a key cog in the Tigers' relay efforts and was a team member on Hayden girls 1,600-meter relay that qualified for the Class 2A state track meet in Lakewood.
Only bad weather kept her from running her leg in that relay. A snowstorm forced the postponement of the first two days of the state track meet. Events were rescheduled to Sunday, forcing some seniors, like Murphy, to decide between attending their own high school graduation or running a race. She chose graduation, but even without running her final races, she leaves a strong legacy of athletic success behind her.
Steamboat Girls Athlete of the Year: Maddie Thompson
Maddie Thompson's always split her focus between tennis and hockey. This year, she managed to break out on the tennis court, just in time for a memorable run through the state tournament.
She was nearly untouchable through the tennis regular season for the Sailors, losing just once. She won her bracket at regionals, then got an intimidating opportunity in the first round of the state tournament — a showdown against that one player who'd beaten her, Peak to Peak sophomore Trini Somasundaram.
Thompson avenged that loss with a 7-5, 7-5 victory, then advanced to the No. 2 singles semifinals. She lost there but was sharp enough to get into the consolation finals, where she picked up one last win, pulling out a marathon final set against University sophomore Camille Krammer, 6-3, 7-6 (7).
The win and the medal she received were a testament to four years of hard work for Thompson.
Hayden Breakout Athlete of the Year: Hannah Wilkie
The Wilkie family has apparently only just begun to deliver highlights for the Hayden High School sports programs. Just as senior Grace Wilkie was making her farewell tour with the Tigers, freshman sister Hannah Wilkie burst onto the scene.
She saw a little varsity time playing volleyball in the fall and saw considerably more for the basketball team in the winter, averaging 5 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. In the spring, though, Wilkie truly showcased her abilities.
She raced the 800-meter run six times during the track season, and she won five of those races, including at the Class 2A 800 championship. She dominated that race from the first step to the last, setting the stage for three more big years competing for the Tigers.
Soroco Breakout Athlete of the Year: Grant Redmond
At 6 feet, 8 inches tall, people always assume Grant Redmond is a basketball player. And he is, of course. He played 18 games with the Rams varsity team this year, averaging 5.2 points and 3.7 rebounds per game.
Basketball's always been his first sport, and he initially went out for track in the spring to stay in shape for basketball. He soon realized he had the chance to excel in a second sport, and excel he did.
Redmond had never tried to high jump in his life. He cleared 5-9 in his first meet in the event this season. He cleared 5-10.5 in the next, 6-2 a few weeks later, then 6-6 in the last regular season meet of the season. He made it over 6-4 at the state track meet, completing his jump from unknown in the sport to one of its top performers in the span of less than a month.
Comeback Athlete of the Year: Lance Bryant
Lance Bryant missed the entirety of his sophomore year with an injury. Coming back after that kind of layoff isn't exactly easy. It takes time to rebuild the stamina required for a tough wrestling match and to get acquainted with the nuance required to win that match.
Bryant got there and went on to have an excellent season for the Sailors. He won his region at 145 pounds, no small task, then went on to a very strong showing at the Class 3A state championship meet. He won his first- and second-round matches with dramatic pins. He was pinned himself in the state semifinals but bounced back in the consolation bracket to place fifth, winning his final match of the season, 11-2.
That was a fitting way to cap what was a furious season of bouncing back, and it sets the stage for what should be a thrilling senior campaign.
Boys Team of the Year: Steamboat Springs hockey
What chance did the Sailors have when they were matched up against Fort Collins in the second round of the state playoffs?
The Lambkins had already beaten the Sailors twice on the season, once close, in overtime, but once handily, 4-2.
Steamboat went on to finish a solid second in its division, right behind Fort Collins, perfect in the division with a 14-0 record.
Despite losing those two previous games, Fort Collins was the matchup the Sailors savored, and they capitalized. The Sailors blasted Rampart, 6-3 in the first round, then pulled the upset against Fort Collins. David LaPoint and Peter Wharton scored to put the team up 2-0, then Jack Bender scored in the third period to give the team some insurance.
The season ended a day later against Cherry Creek, 3-1, but the Sailors could go home content in what they'd accomplished with their season.
Girls Team of the Year: Steamboat girls cross country
This could very well be the first of several appearances in this spot for the Steamboat girls runners. The team is stocked with powerful young talent, and that talent took the squad to its best team finish since 1993.
The potential for the next few years is showcased by the team's improvement from the 2015 state championship meet to the 2016 meet. The team dropped one class, from Class 4A to 3A. It jumped from 13th in 2015 to fourth in 2016, but that improvement wasn't just related to dropping a class. The team's average time per runner in the event dropped 21 minutes, 16 seconds to 20:46.
Six of the team's seven state runners return next season, and five of the seven have at least two more years with the program.
Coach of the Year: Betsy Frick: Steamboat girls lacrosse
The rise of the Steamboat Springs High School girls lacrosse program has seen its share of ups and downs. After two one-win seasons in 2014 and 2015, the team won five games in 2016.
In 2017, however, it broke through with its first truly strong season in the program's six years since it was restarted in 2012. The squad won its first five games of the season and ended up 11-4.
It's not hard to see why. The team had two of the state's best scorers in sophomore Lucy Shimek and freshman Riley Schott, ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the state, respectively, during the regular season. They did the scoring, but it was Frick's tireless, focused efforts to build and sustain the program, to get parents and other coaches involved with younger age groups, that gave those two a stage.
Steamboat needs more players like Shimek and Schott to take the next step and truly challenge some of the elite teams in the league, but it's so much more possible now than ever before.
First, there's a way for middle school girls to learn to love the sport, essential for development of the high school program.
Second, success begets success. It's one thing to convince girls to go out for a team that won one game last year. It's quite another to talk about a team that won 11.