Peak Performers

Gazette's Prep Peak Performer of the Week: Peter Isais, Pine Creek wrestling

Gazette's Prep Peak Performer of the Week: Peter Isais, Pine Creek wrestling

Sat, Jan 1, 2000 - 12:00 AM

Wrestling is in Peter Isais' blood. It's a family tradition, and he has certainly made his family proud.

The Pine Creek senior defeated Cheyenne Mountain's Zac Baker by a 13-6 decision to win the 160-pound 4A state championship. It was his second straight state title - he also won the 5A crown at the same weight class last season.

"It's an amazing feeling to know that all your hard work and effort that you put in - in the weight room and wrestling room - paid off," Isais said. "The beauty of wrestling is that it's an individual sport, so when you go out there, it's all on you. After winning one title, your name is out there, and you have a target on your back."

The target on his back didn't matter at his final state tournament. Isais lit up the scoreboard in his first two matches, winning by tech falls of 21-1 and 18-3. He won a 4-1 decision in the semifinals before coasting in the finals.

"Peter is consistent, and he doesn't make mistakes - which makes him hard to beat," Pine Creek coach Billy Gabel said. "We had a really good game plan going into the match to make sure he capitalized on any bad shots his opponent took. He scored the majority of his points at the end of rounds."

Wrestling runs in the family. Isais' father, Pete, won back-to-back state titles at Fowler High School in 1986-87, exactly 30 years before his son did the same.

Pete is the director of national events for USA Wrestling, and also was an assistant coach on three national title-winning teams at North Dakota State University.

"I've been wrestling since I was 3 years old, and I grew up around the sport," Peter said. "When I was 3, my first wrestling partner was a stuffed dog that was about 3 feet tall. I'd put on my dad's size 10 wrestling shoes and go wrestle on the mat with the dog."

Wrestling that stuffed dog was the beginning, and a dominant high school career - which will leave an impact on the Pine Creek program for many years after Isais is gone - is probably the end.

"He's an example of if you keep working hard and doing the right things, you will be successful," Gabel said. "When the young guys in the program are watching Peter at the state tournament, they're setting goals for themselves. I always tell the seniors to leave the program better than you got it. It's about leaving a legacy and passing on leadership, character and integrity."

Here's where the story takes an unforeseen turn - Isais will not be wrestling at the college level next fall. Instead, he'll be a preferred walk-on for the North Dakota State football team.

Isais was one of the best wide receivers in 4A this past season, catching 61 passes for 898 yards and 13 touchdowns to help the Eagles to their third state title in four years.

"I love wrestling, and I'm not closing the door completely on doing it again, but I feel like football is a better option for me in college," Isais said. "But I'll still be checking in on the guys on the wrestling team at Pine Creek next season, that's for sure."

The Gazette's Prep Peak Performer of the Week: Cheyenne Mountain 200-yard medley relay

The Gazette's Prep Peak Performer of the Week: Cheyenne Mountain 200-yard medley relay

Sat, Jan 1, 2000 - 12:00 AM

From the moment Harper Lehman dove into the pool, it was evident the Cheyenne Mountain girls' swimming and diving team meant business at the 4A state meet.

The Indians' 200-yard medley relay team, started by Harper in the backstroke, not only won the state title, but also set a 4A state record in the event (1 minute, 44.59 seconds), and was the tone setter for a team title for Cheyenne Mountain.

"Being able to start the meet off like that helped the whole team get excited so that we could all swim at a high level," Lehman said. "I got to set a state record with three girls who I've grown up with and looked up to, which made this even better."

Cheyenne Mountain coach Kate Doane didn't intentionally put the 200 medley relay team together to have one girl from each grade level included, but that's exactly what happened - and in order.

Lehman gave way to sophomore Sophia Bricker in the breaststroke, who was followed by junior Cat Wright in the butterfly, and senior Maggie Tibbitt closed it out in the freestyle.

"I couldn't have asked for a better end to my high school career," Tibbitt said. "We had a lot of talent across the board, and our freshmen were contributing to our team score just as much as the seniors. It was cool to have four girls from different grades come together for this record."

The state record in the 200 medley relay was the first of several state titles for the Indians, whose team total of 308 points was 32 better than second-place Valor Christian.

Wright would also win her second 100 butterfly title in the past three years, while she and Bricker were a big part of the 200 freestyle relay team that took first.

"It meant so much to be the second girls' swimming team in Cheyenne Mountain history to win state, and the first in 15 years," Wright said. "We hope that (medley) record stays around for a while. It went in order of age, which was so much cooler, and showed how much everyone stepped up to the plate."

Bricker has two relay state titles and a team championship on her résumé, and she has two years left in high school.

"The individual side of it will push me to keep working harder the next two years," Bricker said. "But it's an incredible feeling to know that my name, and my teammates' names, will be on (4A heat sheets) for others to look at in the 200 medley, and to strive to be better than our time."

Doane, who was named 4A Coach of the Year, was thrilled to see her team finally get to the top of the podium after several years of top-three finishes and near misses.

"It was years of hard work, determination, perseverance and pushing through," Doane said. "We have a group of girls who were cohesive and willing to do whatever it took to bring home the gold trophy."

Tibbitt is the lone member of the record-setting 200 medley relay who will need to be replaced next season. But she'll be paying attention from college.

"I'll definitely check in next year," she said. "You never really leave Cheyenne Mountain, and you always bleed maroon. This is a state title for not only this team, but all the alumni."

The Gazette 2016 Football 3A-&-below Peak Performer: Tyler McFarland, Discovery Canyon

The Gazette 2016 Football 3A-&-below Peak Performer: Tyler McFarland, Discovery Canyon

Sat, Jan 1, 2000 - 12:00 AM

Discovery Canyon coach Shawn Mitchell asks a lot from his quarterbacks - run the triple option, and, if you have a moment, it would be great if you could throw the ball down the field to open up the defense.

None of that was a problem for senior quarterback Tyler McFarland, The Gazette 3A-A6 Football Peak Performer of the Year. McFarland finished the season with 14 touchdowns through the air and 11 on the ground, racking up 902 yards passing and 776 yards rushing.

Not too shabby for his first season as the Thunder's starting quarterback.

"For him to step in and take over the offense, that's risky business," Mitchell said. "But he did an outstanding job.

"He's extremely intelligent and has a high football IQ. He understands a lot, and if he doesn't know he asks. He's humble enough to realize he doesn't know everything."

McFarland was a big part of a historic season for Discovery Canyon. The Thunder finished 13-1, with its only loss coming in the state championship game against Pueblo East.

A difference that McFarland brought to the field was the ability to be a dual threat, something Discovery Canyon and its triple-option offense haven't had much of.

"If you can't throw, teams load the box," Mitchell said. "They dare us to beat them in the passing game. The ability for Tyler to throw helped to pull defenders back."

But for McFarland, who played quarterback at sub-varsity levels earlier in high school and spent his summers working to improve, it was the running game he needed to work on before this season. He spent the spring running hurdles in track to improve his speed.

"I needed to get more comfortable running," McFarland said.

He did. Mitchell said his quarterback's breakout game was a 58-14 win against Falcon, when McFarland ran for 212 yards and two touchdowns in addition to 73 passing yards and another score.

"I had to hear the stats twice," Mitchell said. "He really looked stout, he took charge."

If you ask McFarland, the credit should go to the Thunder's offensive line.

"You could stick any back behind them and they'd have success," McFarland said.

The Thunder had 23 seniors this season, and while not all of them started, they all had an impact, Mitchell said.

"They're buddies and genuinely enjoy being around each other," he said. "They are a cohesive group, probably more cohesive than any group we've ever had."

And while they didn't win a title, both McFarland and Mitchell are proud of the season the Thunder had.

"The ride was incredible," Mitchell said. "(The season) didn't end the way we wanted it to, but in retrospect I'm extremely proud of what this group accomplished."

"It was a dream of (the team) to play in (the state title game) for so long," said McFarland. "It was a great season, one of the best ever, and that was cool to be a part of."

Gazette Prep Peak Performer of the Week: Olivia Florek, St. Mary's basketball

Gazette Prep Peak Performer of the Week: Olivia Florek, St. Mary's basketball

Sat, Jan 1, 2000 - 12:00 AM

Olivia Florek loves life behind the line. The line which separates 2-pointers from 3s.

The St. Mary's senior has become one of the most prolific 3-point shooters in Colorado history, but she's far from finished.

Florek showed how good her sharpshooting skills are when she went 8 for 8 from beyond the arc in a 75-30 rout of Vanguard last week. She is now sixth all-time in Colorado high school girls' basketball history for 3-pointers made in a career with 231.

"It would be hard to just stand out there by yourself and make eight in a row, let alone with people guarding you," St. Mary's coach Mike Burkett said. "Olivia is such a weapon, and she can probably get to fourth on that list by the time the season ends."

The Pirates are 13-0 and ranked No. 1 in the state in 3A. Florek, who also just passed the 1,000-point mark for her career, has been a big reason for St. Mary's success.

"It means a lot, because I've worked hard and practiced a lot," said Florek, who estimates she took 200-300 practice shots per day last summer. "Now it's paying off, because my team is successful, and I'm successful."

Florek has had plenty of help along the way. Between her dad rebounding for her during those summer shooting sessions, and all of her coaches, she's had plenty of guidance.

However, one influence stands above the rest - her older sister, Gabi.

"She was my role model when I started playing basketball," Florek said. "I saw how she played, and I wanted to be like her. She would play me one-on-one and practice with me a lot, and she's a big reason why I'm a good shooter."

There was no learning curve allowed for Olivia. A year after her older sister and the 2012-13 edition of St. Mary's lost in double overtime in the state title game, she was in the starting lineup as a freshman.

Since then, Florek and the Pirates have amassed a 70-16 record, and she's led the team in scoring three of those four years.

"When she came in as a freshman, I knew she was going to be special," Burkett said. "She's been a leader on this team the last four years, and it's been a fun ride. You don't just get players like Olivia all the time. We're hoping Olivia can take it one step further than Gabi and get a state championship."

As Florek's high school career winds down, there are several goals on her mind. A 3A Tri-Peaks title, making her first appearance at state, and trying to get her hands on a state title trophy.

"We're staying focused on right now, but I have thought about winning a state title," she said. "All three of my years here, we've lost in the regional championship game and haven't been to state. So we want to make it to state first, and then go from there."

However, basketball will not rule Florek's life at the next level. Her 4.36 GPA has her looking at impressive academic institutions.

"My top three colleges are Villanova, Georgetown and Gonzaga, for nursing school," she said. "I'll go to one of those and play club basketball, but my focus will be academics and getting a good job in the future."

Gazette Preps Peak Performer of the Week: Deric Cruz, Mesa Ridge wrestling

Gazette Preps Peak Performer of the Week: Deric Cruz, Mesa Ridge wrestling

Sat, Jan 1, 2000 - 12:00 AM

The glory of winning a state championship slowly faded for Mesa Ridge's Deric Cruz, and the realization of what lay ahead of him set in. If the 195-pound senior doesn't repeat to become the program's first back-to-back champion in four weeks, it will certainly come as a blow to him.

He feared it at first. Then, embraced it.

"At the beginning of the season it was pretty rough," Cruz said. "I didn't feel like wrestling because I didn't want to lose. But after I got a couple of losses, I just worked harder and harder.

"(I knew) there were other people working harder than me out there, so I started working hard, and it turns out working harder is the way to go."

Now Cruz is of the extremely dangerous variety: A state champ with something more to prove.

Ranked fourth in 4A 195s by On The Mat, Cruz redeemed an early season loss to 4A No. 2 Oliver Neumann with a 6-4 decision in the finals of the Colorado Springs Metro Championships on Saturday. It was the senior's first title at the tournament after finishing runner-up the past two seasons.

"I feel like I've learned from all my mistakes over the past years," Cruz said afterward. "This year, I'm finally a champ here."

Boy that must feel good to say.

Cruz lost eight of his first 29 matches this season, but came into the Metro Championships with no signs of conceding the 4A 195 title.

He had pins over Coronado's Griffin Moncher and Falcon's Grant McCluan, and then beat Manitou Springs' Atticus Fredrickson 5-2 in the semifinals.

In the 1-vs.-2 seed finale, underdog Cruz jumped out to a 6-1 lead before fending off Neumann's bigger shots down the stretch.

Flashy? No.

But certainly effective.

"He's steady," Grizzlies coach Rob Braaten said. "He doesn't put himself in a bad spot. He stays away from giving up those big chunks of points on the other side, so that way he can win those matches by a couple points."

That was the style when he rose meteorically to knock off top-seed Donavon Rincon of Pueblo County at the state tournament a year ago, before beating Cheyenne Mountain's Zach Garrard 3-2 in the finals.

There's more work to be done to get No. 2.

"I guess I won the (Metros) tournament, it was great," Cruz said, "but I have better goals to do."

Cruz and Samuel Freeman won the program's first state titles last season.

The Gazette Preps Peak Performer of the Week: KJ Kearns, Coronado wrestling

The Gazette Preps Peak Performer of the Week: KJ Kearns, Coronado wrestling

Sat, Jan 1, 2000 - 12:00 AM

The best wrestlers not only put in more gym time to be the strongest physically, but they also gain a psychological advantage over their opponents.

Coronado's KJ Kearns has shown that he has the skills to be one of the best wrestlers in the state at 138 pounds, and he's doing it with a style that is leaving both opponents and practice partners scratching their heads.

Kearns won his weight class at the Arvada West Invitational, one of the toughest regular-season meets of the season.

"I would describe my style as 'funky,'" Kearns said. "I can pull a move out of nowhere and make it work for me, even if it's something that nobody else would try. I wrestled my style and didn't let my opponents do what they wanted. A big part of my success is that I'm very unorthodox, and it works well for me because people can't adjust to it mid-match."

Kearns won his first match with a first-round pin, won his second match with a 6-2 decision, and advanced to the finals with a 16-0 tech fall. He dominated Joshua Boulton of Fort Collins in a 7-0 decision to win the championship.

Kearns' coach, Matt Brickell, has been at Coronado for a long time, and was impressed with what his sophomore co-captain was able to accomplish.

"Last year, as a freshman, there were some times when KJ could've won tournaments but came away with second place," Brickell said. "He deserves a lot of credit, because that was a big tournament to win.

"If he can get a takedown, I think he can beat anybody in the state the way he wrestles. He has a really interesting style, and one you don't see very often. I call him 'the Barnacle' because once he gets you on the ground he's a great rider and people rarely get away from him."

Kearns' style has led to a 19-3 record, and has him rising in the rankings at his weight class in 5A as he tries to make it to the state tournament.

That same style isn't so popular with those who must try to combat it.

"My practice partner - Steve Dabelko - hates my style and gets very frustrated with me," Kearns said with a laugh.

Brickell is excited about Kearns' potential, and says he's only going to get better from here.

"It's really nice to see young guys be able to perform like this," Brickell said. "When they win, they get more experience and more confidence, and that carries over to when they're juniors and seniors. I think he can be a state champ and go on to wrestle in college. He has the mentality of a winner, and when you win, it becomes a habit."

Kearns - who finished third at the Arvada tournament last year - hopes having his hand raised becomes a habit; one that carries him to state.

"This year, I mentally prepared myself and had confidence going into that tournament," Kearns said. "Having an extra year under my belt helped me. I had a bunch of nerves there last year, and wasn't really ready for the tough matches. I feel like by the time the end of the season rolls around, I'll be in the conversation for winning a state title."

The Gazette's Prep Peak Performer of the Week: Jackson Ehrlin, Rampart boys' basketball

The Gazette's Prep Peak Performer of the Week: Jackson Ehrlin, Rampart boys' basketball

Sat, Jan 1, 2000 - 12:00 AM

Rampart basketball has big goals for 2017 - and there's an equally big guy leading the charge for the Rams.

Jackson Ehrlin, a 6-foot-8, 210-pound senior, has been a force on both ends of the court. He enjoys scoring, grabbing rebounds and blocking shots as much as he likes a good hip hop album, and Ehrlin added to his greatest hits collection with three strong games over the weekend.

He had 17 points and seven rebounds in a 70-54 win over CSCS on Friday. His team then played twice Saturday, as Ehrlin tallied 23 points and six rebounds in a 74-55 win over Fruita Monument, and followed that with 15 points, nine rebounds and six blocks in a 69-65 overtime win over Pueblo West.

"It brought me back to the old AAU days, when you were at a tournament and had 4-5 games in a weekend," Ehrlin said of three games in 48 hours. "Pueblo West would be a top team in our league, and they're one of the best 4A teams in the state, so winning a game like that can propel us."

The 5A Rams rallied from a seven-point deficit entering the fourth quarter against Pueblo West (8-1) to finish 3-0 at the Rampart Tournament and improve to 7-3 in nonconference play.

The toughness the team showed, led by Ehrlin, was something Rampart coach J'on St. Clair was happy with.

"The kids kept battling and took some punches, but once we got the lead in overtime, we kept it," St. Clair said. "I'm really excited about the way Jackson is shooting the ball. For him to be shooting as well as he is from outside is a threat that most people aren't ready for."

Ehrlin, who is a hip hop/rap music aficionado, is averaging 18.4 points and 8.4 rebounds.

Off the court, he's listening to the likes of J. Cole and Drake. On the court, he's making life miserable for opposing players. He credits his intense desire to win for making him the player he has become.

"I've never met anyone more competitive than me - I wish I would so I could see how crazy that person is," Ehrlin said with a laugh. "I can't stand losing, especially when you lose and know you should've won - that kills me. I expect to win, and make sure my teammates know the deal."

St. Clair echoed those sentiments, saying Ehrlin holds both himself and his teammates to a high standard. That attitude is what makes Rampart one of the favorites to win the 5A Metro title and make a serious run in the playoffs.

"They follow his example, and it's great to have a kid like that lead your team," St. Clair said. "I've coached some places where the best player isn't the hardest-working player, but that's not the case with Jackson. It always makes it easier when you have someone who is 'that guy' on the team."

The Rams enter conference play with just three losses, which came by a total of 10 points.

Ehrlin, who will play for Division 2 Black Hills State (Spearfish, S.D.) next year, says his team is battle-tested.

"If we keep playing the way we're playing, and play the entire game - like we did against Pueblo West - we can go to state," he said.

Small school football coach of the year: Richard Deems, Peyton

Small school football coach of the year: Richard Deems, Peyton

Sat, Jan 1, 2000 - 12:00 AM

When Peyton's Richard Deems took over for the 2014 season, there were 17 kids in the program.

They went 3-6.

Much has changed since then.

This year, Peyton finished 10-1 (including 5-0 to win the 1A Tri-Peaks), made the playoffs as the No. 5 seed, and beat Limon in the first round before falling to Bennett in the quarterfinals.

After that first season, last year's 6-4 team that made the playoffs was a turning point that helped lead Peyton to more success this year, said Deems, The Gazette 3A-A6 Football Coach of the Year.

Deems, who graduated from Harrison and played at Western New Mexico, highlighted a 35-8 win against Buena Vista, the Limon victory and winning the league as achievements that underscored the 2016 season.

A 12-7 victory against Rye included a defensive stand at the end of the game.

"All year we had kids that made plays," Deems said. "When their back was up against the wall, the kids made plays."

And the community noticed this season, a year that Deems called "a culmination of hard work." Every so often, Peyton would have more traveling fans than opposing teams would have home fans.

Deems is optimistic for 2017.

"We've got a lot of pieces coming back and we're excited for next season," he said.

The Gazette 2016 5A-4A Volleyball Peak Performer: Lydia Bartalo, Lewis-Palmer

The Gazette 2016 5A-4A Volleyball Peak Performer: Lydia Bartalo, Lewis-Palmer

Sat, Jan 1, 2000 - 12:00 AM

Hoping to keep Lewis-Palmer's championship quest on course, Lydia Bartalo set the tone, slashing big winners and racing down digs.

It was just another ordinary day at practice for the state's best team, and Bartalo - The Gazette 5A-4A Volleyball Peak Performer of the Year - again made sure there were no dull moments.

"Coach (Susan) Odenbaugh told Lydia during the season, when she's on, everyone's on," said senior Elizabeth Reich, the Pikes Peak Athletic Conference MVP. "And that's so true. As soon as Lydia starts hitting hard everyone in the back row is like, 'Whoa, we need to start diving for stuff.'

"The intensity started with Lydia."

It ended in triumph for Lewis-Palmer.

From beating eventual 3A champ Eaton and 5A winner Fossil Ridge in the regular season, to losing just one set in the state tournament, the Rangers pulled off an undefeated season on their way to a third 4A state title in four years.

Their three-set dismantling of Holy Family in the championship match not only capped off one of the best seasons in state history, but it finally put a close to a disappointing 2015 campaign that ended in a finals loss to Cheyenne Mountain.

"Last year didn't end the way we'd hoped, not just in a loss but for our own expectations," Bartalo said. "At the beginning of this year we wanted it to be team first and then win second. We wanted to make sure we were all still united at the season's end."

As team co-captain, Bartalo helped make sure of it.

Consistently putting together stellar performances in practice and games, Bartalo finished her do-it-all senior season with 294 kills, 293 digs and 55 aces.

It was so good from start to finish that even the keen volleyball eye of longtime L-P coach Odenbaugh couldn't choose which of Bartalo's skills helped the team the most.

"If you use the term utility player she probably is, she's just very good all around," the coach said. "We really pride ourselves that no one is a star and no one is any more important than anyone else on the team, but I think Lydia's consistency of play makes her deserving of this honor."

With three state titles in hand, Bartalo will move on to her next challenge and play at the University of Denver.

A month ago, the senior celebrated her last match of the year at the Denver Coliseum alongside hundreds of orange-clad fans, her teammates and, of course, her younger sister, Gianna, who'd finished an impressive freshman season.

The scene was familiar to three seasons before when Lydia won her first title with older sister Abigail.

"It was really cool to be able to give Gianna the same experience that my older sister gave me," Lydia said.

The Gazette 2016 3A-1A Volleyball Peak Performer: Cassie Davis, CSCS

The Gazette 2016 3A-1A Volleyball Peak Performer: Cassie Davis, CSCS

Sat, Jan 1, 2000 - 12:00 AM

Players and coaches on the Colorado Springs Christian School volleyball team talked earlier this year about what this season might look like. After losing five seniors from last year's squad that made it to the state semifinals each of the past two years, the team wasn't sure what to expect.

The Lions admit that they weren't anticipating the same playoff run this season. As the season went on, though, the Lions saw what they were capable of accomplishing.

Led by senior setter Cassie Davis, The Gazette 3A-1A Volleyball Peak Performer of the Year, the Lions defeated higher-class teams, like 5A Rampart, and rival teams, like St. Mary's, and found themselves not only hosting a regional, but making it back to the state semifinals for the third consecutive season.

And they didn't just make it to the semifinals. For the first time in the past three appearances, the Lions won two sets. CSCS was swept in the previous two semifinal matches.

"I think a lot of us didn't even think we would be hosting regionals at the beginning of the season," CSCS coach Lori Currier said. "And then to make it all the way to state was just amazing."

Davis, a four-year varsity starter and three-time captain, played a big part in helping CSCS make another playoff run.

During the Lions' run in which they finished a perfect 12-0 in league and narrowly fell to Valley in the state semifinals, Davis had another record-breaking year.

In 2015 she set the record in assists in a single season - regardless of classification - with 1,108. This year she set the record for career assists after finishing the season with 1,040 to bring her career total to 3,715 assists, 137 more than the previous leader.

Davis also led the team with 88 aces and was fourth on the team with 118 kills. In the win against Rampart, Davis had 67 assists, four shy of tying the record for most assists in a match. Currier said Davis didn't talk about the records.

"She just does her thing and is just super humble about it," Currier said. "She's an amazing athlete, amazing person and just a great asset to the team all around.

"I don't really know anybody else that has done that and to be kind of a small program and still be able to do that to me is just amazing. Obviously, she has to have the supporting cast, and the passes to do it and the hitters to put the ball down, and that part she acknowledges that, too. But yeah, it's pretty amazing to be able to do that. She's definitely a great setter."

Even with the loss at state, Davis was excited about the outcome of the season.

"It was just awesome," Davis said. "We had a really young team this year and just to see us go that far and do better than we had done the last couple of years (and) that we actually won a set in the semifinals, that was just awesome."

Davis, who has committed to play college volleyball at Ave Maria in Florida next year, is one of four seniors the Lions are losing. Davis said she is excited to continue playing in college. For the Lions, Davis will be difficult to replace.

"I will be sad to see her go," Currier said. "We've got a couple people that are options to fill the spot but it will definitely be a different team without her."

The Gazette 2016 3A-1A Volleyball All-Area teams

The Gazette 2016 3A-1A Volleyball All-Area teams

Sat, Jan 1, 2000 - 12:00 AM

First team

Outside hitter: Laney Swan, Colorado Springs School, sr.-Second in 2A with 429 kills; added 200 digs, 206 assists.

Outside hitter: Bailey Scott, Colorado Springs Christian School, sr.-Finished seventh in 3A with 328 kills.

Outside hitter/middle blocker: Christine Ajayi, Colorado Springs Christian School, jr.-Sixth-most kills in 3A with 330.

Middle blocker: Christa Vogt, Colorado Springs Christian School, so.-Her 112 total blocks ranked third in 3A; also had 176 kills.

Defensive specialist, libero: Emily Broerman, St. Mary's, sr.-First among area small schools and second in 3A with 472 digs.

Setter: Cassie Davis, Colorado Springs Christian School, sr.-First in state regardless of classification with 1,040 assists, added 118 kills, 44 total blocks, 387 digs.

Utility: Amanda Ringstad, James Irwin, sr.-Earned all-conference honors after posting 149 kills, 65 digs.

Second team

Outside hitter: Jackie Delfeld, St. Mary's, sr.

Outside hitter: Janine Coderre, Vanguard, jr.

Outside hitter/middle blocker: Jaydi Starling, Colorado Springs School, sr.

Middle blocker: Hannah Taylor, Colorado Springs School, sr.

Defensive specialist, libero: Julia Ridgway, Colorado Springs Christian School, sr.

Setter: Kaela Gaylord, Colorado Springs School, sr.

Utility: Taralynn Sweeney, St. Mary's, sr.

Honorable mention

Calhan-Sierra Knox, jr.; Kiley Renzelman, sr.

Colorado School for Deaf & Blind-Diana Enriquez, so.

Colorado Springs School-Molly Bigbee, so.

Ellicott-Graciela Donez, jr.; Miranda Garduno, sr.; Devinne Larreau, jr.

Evangelical Christian Academy-Amanda Bost, sr.; Annalise DeKam, sr.; Maria Gergen, sr.; Maggie Kirkpatrick, sr.

Hanover-TaylorAnne Mason, sr.; Tessa Owens, sr.

Manitou Springs-Shelby Hard, sr.; McKayla Cully, so.

Peyton-Emily Starkie, sr.

Pikes Peak Christian-Jaime Bryan, jr.; April Johns, sr.; Kyler Sweat, fr.

St. Mary's-Brighid Heaney, sr.

Vanguard-Nicole DeFosses, sr.

Gazette Preps Athletes of the Week: Cheyenne Mountain swimmers Maggie Tibbitt and Harper Lehman

Gazette Preps Athletes of the Week: Cheyenne Mountain swimmers Maggie Tibbitt and Harper Lehman

Sat, Jan 1, 2000 - 12:00 AM

Over the past five seasons, Cheyenne Mountain hasn't finished lower than third place in the team standings at the 4A state girls' swimming championships.

That's because the Indians don't rebuild. They reload.

Depth in every class has been a constant of Cheyenne Mountain's staying power among the state's elite. At the Pikes Peak Relays, held Friday at Rampart, the Indians displayed the leadership and talent of the present along with promise of the future in a dominant performance, scoring a 96-point victory.

Senior Maggie Tibbitt and freshman Harper Lehman, this week's co-Peak Performers, were a big reason behind the team success. Each took home an individual title and took part in three winning relays.

"This is the meet where the older kids help the younger ones feel better about themselves," Indians coach Kate Doane said. "Maggie is that girl. She knows how to help her teammates and encourages them very well. Harper has been looking forward to swimming in high school for many years. She's ready to rock."

Harper started the day by swimming the third leg of the winning 200-yard medley relay team and later took part in 400 medley and 200 backstroke relays. In between, she touched first in the 100 backstroke.

"A lot of good things happened on Saturday, and it has given me confidence for the rest of the season," Lehman said. "I went in feeling pretty nervous since this was my first time at this event. Seniors like Maggie were amazing, and she made me more relaxed. I've looked up to her for a long time."

Tibbitt, a member of the 400 freestyle team that broke the 4A state-meet record earlier this year, picked right up where she left off. She swam in the 5x100 relay, 200 backstroke relay and 400 freestyle relay and earned an individual triumph in the 100 freestyle.

"It's nice to be one of the leaders," Tibbitt said. "But swimming is such a great sport. It doesn't matter what age you are. If you put in the hard work, you can see the difference. Harper works so hard. The whole team is competitive, and whenever we see one of our teammates touch the wall first, we all feed off that. It's contagious."

Moving forward, it'll take that combination of experience and youth to keep the Indians in the conversation for the 4A title. Cheyenne Mountain finished runner-up in 2013 and 2015, with third-place efforts in 2012, 2014 and 2016.

"We have great leaders every year, and I think we've done a good job establishing that culture and keeping great atmosphere for it to continue," Tibbitt said. "We want to leave it better than how we found it. The freshmen are involved in the team, and swimmers like Harper are already leaders. They're a great part of this team and a big reason behind our success."

The Gazette Softball Peak Performer: Payton Romines, Air Academy

The Gazette Softball Peak Performer: Payton Romines, Air Academy

Sat, Jan 1, 2000 - 12:00 AM

Air Academy softball coach Chris Hernez did something this season he's never done before: he named team captains.

One of them was senior Payton Romines, a critical part of an Air Academy team that advanced to the state semifinals before bowing out to Erie in a 6-4 loss.

"She's been a cornerstone of the program the last four years," Hernez said. "She had an immediate impact as a freshman and has only gotten better every year."

Romines is The Gazette Softball Peak Performer of the Year.

In 21 games, Romines hit .614, drove in 41 runs, scored 34 more, homered six times and posted an OPS of 1.701.

While Hernez said Romines' numbers always proved her one of the best players on the team, her leadership blossomed after she and fellow senior Julia Elbert were named captains.

"I wanted them to be in a position to be recognized by players and coaches and parents," Hernez said.

But being named team captains solidified the role Romines and Elbert felt they were already playing: helping their teammates.

A large part of that role, Romines said, meant minimizing drama. One way of doing that was before practice, when teammates would chat through the trials and tribulations of high school.

"You'd just see their days go from zero to 100 because they have the team to go to," Romines said. "That was probably the coolest part about my high school experience."

"Everybody knew we had something special," Hernez said. "There was a sense of 'let's not squander this, let's row in the same direction.'"

In the loss to Erie, Romines slid into first base head-first to ensure she was safe.

"We needed base runners, things weren't really happening for us," Hernez said. "That's how she plays - whatever it takes to be safe, to score a run."

Romines sliding isn't out of the ordinary - in club play, where Hernez has coached Romines, her trademark move is to dive over the catcher to score, which she's done several times. That effort translated to high school, too.

Hernez said Romines was always working outside of practice and spearheading a positive team mentality, reminding teammates that they were a top team. She'd help him coach and mentor younger players.

"Other than winning state, she couldn't have gone out any better," Hernez said. "I don't know when we'll see another player like Payton. It's a big hole to fill."

Next year, Romines will continue her softball career at Division II Holy Family University in Philadelphia. A solid nursing program and a tour of the school sealed the deal.

"There's nowhere else I'd rather go," she said.

Romines was quick to give Air Academy credit for making her a better player.

"A lot of people don't have a chance to play this game," Romines said. "If it wasn't for this high school team, there's no way I could do the things that I do."

The Gazette 2016 Boys' Cross Country Peak Performer: Tanner Norman, The Classical Academy

The Gazette 2016 Boys' Cross Country Peak Performer: Tanner Norman, The Classical Academy

Sat, Jan 1, 2000 - 12:00 AM

Winning a second consecutive state title was important to Tanner Norman. He not only wanted to leave The Classical Academy with his legacy intact, but also was hoping it would give his younger brothers something to strive for.

Norman won the 3A boys' state cross country race in 15 minutes, 44.8 seconds. He was 25 seconds clear of the field - nearly 10 seconds clear of any other runner at state regardless of classification - and made it an encore to his 2015 title in the 4A classification.

Norman is The Gazette Boys' Cross Country Peak Performer of the Year, and wants his brothers - Mason, a freshman at TCA, and Ian, a sixth-grader - to make this a family tradition.

"I wanted to set a good example, especially with my little brother on the team," Tanner said. "I wanted to leave an impact on Mason, because I want him to be better than I am, and I think he will be."

At the peak of his training before the 2016 season started, Norman was running 70 miles a week. A "normal" week of training included 60-65 miles per week.

As a freshman three years ago, Norman placed 43rd in the state in 4A. As a sophomore, he jumped to eighth, but wasn't yet a serious contender for the championship.

That changed with a lot of hard work.

"I've grown a lot physically since my freshman year," he said. "I was looking at some pictures from that year the other day, and I noticed I was a small dude. I focused on my training and on all the little things that help you win, like stretching, eating right and sleeping enough - those things add up."

TCA coach Alan Versaw said Norman's work ethic has set the tone for what's expected for the entire program, and that the younger runners on the team couldn't have had a better role model.

"He's exemplary in practice, and I don't know if the other kids see all of the little things he's doing, but they see the big picture and that he's putting in the work and it's paying off for him," Versaw said. "It motivates the other kids on the team, and I think there will still be a few years of Tanner's influence hanging around here, even after he's gone to college."

Norman is off to run for Iowa State next year, which means he'll pass the torch to Mason - who finished 38th in this year's 3A state meet.

Mason will be a senior when Ian is a freshman, which means there will be a Norman running for TCA for years to come.

"At TCA, it's always been about the Hanenberg sisters, Kaitlin and Emily," Tanner said. "They left their mark and legacy, so it would be cool if the Normans could do the same kind of thing and put the family name on some banners in the gym. I have a little sister, Ellie, who is 6 years old, so we still have some time before she's at TCA."

"Growing up, I was competitive with Mason, and I wouldn't want him to beat my times in middle school, so I would try to set those times low enough that he couldn't catch them. Now, I find myself wanting him to be better than I am. It's a lot of fun."

Peak Performer of the Week: David Moore III, Pine Creek football

Peak Performer of the Week: David Moore III, Pine Creek football

Sat, Jan 1, 2000 - 12:00 AM

It's too easy to paint Pine Creek freshman running back David Moore III as the smallest guy on the team, who made believers of his older teammates in a scrimmage before the season with long touchdown that seemed to be flung out of a slingshot.

That happened too, but Moore, the Gazette's Peak Performer of the Week, proved he's no one-hit wonder.

His rise to the starting role on a varsity program that rarely plays freshmen, let alone leans on them, is the kind that makes you root for the 'little guy.' But Moore, weighing just 155, showed he's no typical underdog, exuding all the tools of a football player destined for bigger things.

"He's no one like I've ever played with," senior quarterback Brock Domann said. "He's definitely a once-in-a-decade-type player."

Moore, better known as DM3 on the field, rushed for 201 yards on 23 carries and exploded for a 73-yard score, helping lead the Eagles to a 36-14 win over Broomfield at Mile High for their third state title in four years.

DM3 finished his debut season with 1,585 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground. His average of 10 yards a carry, meanwhile, was the second-best mark among 1,000-yard rushers in the state.

"He's a warrior," coach Todd Miller told the Gazette Saturday. "And I got him another three years."

Moore, with his superior ability to slip tackles or speed away from them, is already one of the premiere backs out of the 2020 class.

Before high school Moore won three straight state and regional championships on a traveling club team, his father David Moore Jr. said. And in February, DM3 was the MVP at the U.S. Under-15 International Bowl at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

He, of course, still had a lot to prove once he arrived at Pine Creek, a program aching for a state title after falling short the year before.

"We started talking around and people said that 'No freshman is good enough to play varsity on Pine Creek,'" Moore Jr. said. "'You can go to another school and play varsity football, but not Pine Creek.

"So when he got on that football field and (players) were like 'Whoa, we can't catch this kid.' It was one of things like, 'Wow, maybe he is ready.'"

DM3, whose NCSA recruiting page says he has ran the 100-meter dash in 11.13 and the 40-yard dash in 4.48, showcased that blazing speed throughout the year.

He also answered the question whether he could withstand more-punishing hits with seven straight 100-yard games on the ground to end the season.

Asked when he knew he could have this kind success, the mild-mannered 15-year-old pointed to a play from a three-team scrimmage against Legend and Doherty in July.

It was a counter run, and Moore's small stature allowed him to hide behind his offensive line. When he emerged out of the scrum, he made a sharp cut and raced into the end zone for 75 yards.

"When I broke that long run I had a great feeling about the season," he said.

He was right.

Air Academy's Maria Mettler is Gazette Girls' Cross Country Peak Performer of the Year

Air Academy's Maria Mettler is Gazette Girls' Cross Country Peak Performer of the Year

Sat, Jan 1, 2000 - 12:00 AM

Heading into the state cross country meet, Air Academy senior Maria Mettler played out the final meters over and over in her head, picturing herself and another of the state's top runners battling for the Class 4A title.

The drama she envisioned, as it turned out, didn't materialize and her big finish turned out to be merely a prelude to the celebration.

The Kadets' team captain rounded the final turn into Norris-Penrose Event Center with nobody but the lead biker in sight. She kicked into another gear anyways, pushing her limits until she stopped the clock at 18 minutes and 31 seconds.

It's as if she couldn't quite believe a win could come so handily.

"I didn't know I was that far ahead, I was just kind of looking at the lead bike," said Mettler, the Gazette Girls' Cross Country Peak Performer of the Year, who beat the 4A field by 28 seconds. "I just wanted to be the best I could be and just control my effort, and whatever happens, happens."

Mettler finished only her second season of cross country on top, but nobody should consider her inexperienced.

Coach Chuck Schwartz praised Mettler as the team leader on and off the course.

"It would be really easy after having her in the shadow of somebody else to not really know how to lead, and that's not the case at all," said Schwartz, referring to Mettler who took the reins after former running champ Katie Rainsberger graduated.

"She's just a natural leader."

Mettler, a soccer player, moved from Nevada last year and decided to join cross country. She did her part to help the Kadets win the 4A title too, finishing 11th at state, third on the team.

After that, she was hooked.

Just like 5A winner and national champ Brie Oakley of Grandview and Rainsberger, Mettler severed her relationship with soccer for long distance.

That spring in track she had a hand in the 4A 3,200 relay that won a state title, while also placing sixth in the 1,600 and 3,200.

"Katie (Rainsberger) and Kayla (Wiitala) were really good seniors and mentors for me," Mettler said. "I think that helped my love for running. I learned running can be fun despite the pain."

Winning certainly helped.

Mettler won 4A Region 2 and then became the Kadets' third straight individual state cross country winner in October.

If she ever showed any inexperience, it was the fact that she couldn't imagine a scenario where she could win a championship going away.

"I knew I could win but I didn't know by that much," said Mettler, who took 14th at Nike Cross Southwest Regionals a month later. "I definitely could put my expectations higher, but being so new I didn't really know what to expect."

Mettler said she is deciding between a few Division-I colleges and one D-II school.