Peak Performers

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.

Boys' Golf Peak Performer of the Year: Luke Trujillo, Discovery Canyon

Boys' Golf Peak Performer of the Year: Luke Trujillo, Discovery Canyon

Sat, Jan 1, 2000 - 12:00 AM

Luke Trujillo had a dream finish to his golf season.

The Discovery Canyon junior won the state title on the second playoff hole of the 4A state tournament, and in the process, helped the Thunder win the team championship.

Now, he's added a third accolade to his 2016 résumé - The Gazette Boys' Golf Peak Performer of the Year.

"It doesn't get any better than this - not even close," Trujillo said of his trio of accomplishments. "It's incredible to hear your name in the same sentence as player of the year. We have some great golfers in the Springs, so to be compared to them, and selected as the best player, is a remarkable experience."

Trujillo earned every bit of success he experienced throughout the season. He persevered through not winning the league title and tying for second at regionals.

Undeterred, Trujillo not only won the state title in a playoff, but he beat Silver Creek's Jackson Solem, the defending state champion. Trujillo handled the win with a great amount of class.

"When Jackson missed his putt, and I saw how upset he was, I knew that I would've been just as upset if I was in his shoes," Trujillo said. "I told him that if I could share the title with him, I would do it in a heartbeat. I know how bad he wanted it, and he deserved it just as much as I did."

Mark Liggett, who's been the Discovery Canyon golf coach for four years, has seen Trujillo develop over the past three years, and said the junior's talents have blossomed and combined with steadiness to make him a dominant player.

"When it came to state - wow - he was hitting the ball just how he wanted to, and showed how great he could be with a 67 on the first day," Liggett said. "He faced some adversity when he double bogeyed 17 and bogeyed 18, but he came back strong the next day and beat a talented player for the state title."

Trujillo has garnered some attention from colleges, and has begun the process of meeting with coaches to discuss his future after his senior season at Discovery Canyon in 2017.

He loves playing with his teammates and looks forward to doing so again next season, as the Thunder try to defend the title.

"I've played other sports, like soccer and baseball, but no team can compare to how much I loved playing on this team," Trujillo said. "The night after the first round, when I had a bad finish, they were all there for me and gave me confidence going into the next day. Every practice we improved and had so much fun, and we wanted each other to get better."

Liggett says Trujillo has grown a lot - physically and mentally - in the past year. In addition to adding more distance on his shots, Liggett has seen improvement in maturity, and said Trujillo can get even better.

"Luke is fun to coach, because he knows how to hit every shot," Liggett said. "He can be even more consistent as a senior next year, but there aren't many places where he needs to improve."

Gazette Preps Peak Performer of the Week, Michaela Putnicki, Lewis-Palmer volleyball

Gazette Preps Peak Performer of the Week, Michaela Putnicki, Lewis-Palmer volleyball

Sat, Jan 1, 2000 - 12:00 AM

Michaela Putnicki has earned many awards and accolades during her three years as a Lewis-Palmer volleyball player, but she experienced something she'll never forget Saturday at the Denver Coliseum.

She and her Rangers teammates celebrated perhaps the greatest volleyball season in state history, earning the 4A championship with a dominant performance.

For Michaela, a senior, and her sister, Riley, a sophomore, sharing a title was special.

"It was an unreal moment, and it's hard to describe what that meant," Michaela said. "It feels great to be able to win a title with my whole team, especially my sister. We're so close, and it was a very happy moment for us both."

Led by Putnicki and her two fellow seniors, Elizabeth Reich and Lydia Bartalo - who also shared the title with her younger sister, Gianna - Lewis-Palmer took all the drama out of the 4A state bracket.

After defeating Windsor 3-1 in the first match of pool play, the Rangers crushed Berthoud, Pueblo West and Holy Family in straight sets for their third title in the past four years.

"It didn't feel like a weight was taken off our shoulders, but there was certainly a sense of relief that all the hard work had paid off," said Putnicki, who tallied 44 kills, 37 digs and seven blocks in those matches. "Everything came together at the end, and we didn't really have any weak moments."

Lewis-Palmer had no weak moments throughout the 2016 season. It lost just four sets during its 29-0 rampage through Colorado, and finished as one of the top teams in the nation, according to MaxPreps.

Rangers coach Susan Odenbaugh says a large part of the team's success was based on the leadership of the three seniors.

"It's special to see the older players uphold the school's legacy, and pass it along to their sisters," Odenbaugh said. "There were a lot of tears from Riley when we were hoisting the state championship trophy, because she was so happy for what her sister had accomplished."

Putnicki is a team-first player who leads by example. She was selected as a 2016 Under Armour All-American, the only volleyball player from Colorado to earn that honor.

She was able to juggle being an elite volleyball player and earning high grades in the classroom.

"Doing school work and playing volleyball at the same time takes a lot of focus," Putnicki said. "It means going home after practice and doing my homework while other kids get to watch TV."

Putnicki leaves Lewis-Palmer with two state titles, and tons of memories. She'll focus on playing for the University of Virginia next season.

"Michaela can pass from the back row, has a really effective serve, and we could run a back-row attack with her," Odenbaugh said. "She's going to take those skills to Virginia, and she's going to be an impact player as a freshman."

While Putnicki is excited for the next chapter, she also is confident L-P will continue to win in the coming years.

"We're leaving the program in good hands," she said. "The three seniors were a big part of this team, but all the sophomores and juniors will be able to replace those positions, and they'll have a great chance to win another trophy next year."

Gazette Preps Peak Performer of the Week: Ross Norwood, CSCS soccer

Gazette Preps Peak Performer of the Week: Ross Norwood, CSCS soccer

Sat, Jan 1, 2000 - 12:00 AM

A year ago, Ross Norwood wasn't able to do what he loved. He had been forced off the soccer pitch due to chronic concussions, and didn't know if he'd ever return.

Fast forward to Saturday, and there was Norwood, making 18 saves in net for his fifth-seeded Colorado Springs Christian School Lions, propelling them to an upset win at No. 4 Vail Mountain to send his team to the 3A state semifinals.

"Being able to play again is just a gift from God," Norwood said. "So often, it's easy to take for granted being out on the field each day. I realize what a blessing this is, and I think that's reflected in my play. I'm giving it my all every game, and I'm not reserving anything."

Norwood suffered the fourth concussion of his soccer career toward the start of his junior season, prompting doctors to tell him that he would have to give up his dreams of playing for CSCS - and for the Air Force Academy, someday.

Norwood worked with the local Human Performance and Rehabilitation center, and after four months of training and therapy, improved his brain strength enough to get back on the field.

"It's such a special thing to see that, because not many players get told that they'll never have a chance to play again, and then come back and do it," CSCS coach Jason Rollins said. "He struggled last year, because soccer was such a big part of his life, and it molded him as a person coming back from that."

Not only has Norwood re-emerged, he's done it in style. The 6-foot-4 senior has used his wingspan and athletic ability to anchor the Lions' defense to within two victories of a state title.

Norwood shut out Ridgway in the first round, then made 14 saves in a 4-0 win over Bruce Randolph. His big performance in the quarters, on the road against Vail Mountain, was his best yet.

"We have a young defense, but I couldn't be more proud of them," Norwood said. "They're strong, and have done an amazing job of making my job easier. As a goalie, having confidence in your defense is half the battle."

CSCS (16-2) started the season with three wins, then lost the next two - to Kent Denver and Jefferson Academy - before reeling off 13 straight victories.

In those 13 games, Norwood has allowed just six goals. Now, as he chases a state title, Norwood's ultimate dream of playing for Air Force is getting closer by the save.

"He's a leader, not only on the team, but within the school and community, and is the poster child for the things we want to see in our kids at school," Rollins said of Norwood. "Air Force would get all the benefits of a true leader who does it by example - on and off the field."

Kent Denver is 17-0-1 and the top seed in the 3A bracket. But when the Sun Devils see CSCS for the second time Wednesday, Norwood is hoping it will be a different outcome.

"Since we lost those two games, there's been a lot of growth and unifying on our team," Norwood said. "We're not the same team now as we were earlier in the season, and Kent Denver is going to see a different side of us."

Gazette Peak Performer of the Week: TCA's Tanner Norman, cross country

Gazette Peak Performer of the Week: TCA's Tanner Norman, cross country

Sat, Jan 1, 2000 - 12:00 AM

As Tanner Norman ran the final few hundred meters of the 3A state cross country 5,000 race, it was a culmination.

Nobody was close to The Classical Academy senior, as he cruised across the finish line all alone in 15 minutes, 44.8 seconds. He was 25 seconds clear of the field, and it was just the way he wanted it. A year before, he battled to the finish line for the 4A state championship.

"It was definitely a lot less stressful this time," he said. "I was thinking about it before the race, and there's a lot of stress and anxiety that goes along with it. I was anxious before the race, thinking that maybe the same thing would happen, but it ended up being a lot more comfortable."

It was a second state title for a guy who got to this point by paying his dues, and running a lot of miles over the course of his high school career.

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

"After my sophomore year it was a big question whether or not I would ever win a state title," Norman admitted. 'That was one of my biggest goals entering high school. So, to win two is pretty cool."

Cool, indeed.

Norman is a running machine. At the peak of his training before the season started, he was running 70 miles a week. That's essentially running from the TCA campus to Broomfield, each week.

"I picked up the volume a bit, and was hitting 70 miles per week a couple times, but it was mostly somewhere around 65," he said. "My typical recovery run is about eight miles, and then I do long runs on the weekends of 13 miles."

All that preparation paid dividends Saturday at the Norris Penrose Event Center. Norman made the state meet his personal playground, and he didn't play well with others.

"I think Tanner would've won the title in any of the classifications," TCA coach Alan Versaw said. "The way the race played out actually hurt his time a little bit. Isaiah DeLaCerda of Alamosa pushed really hard through the first mile, and as a result, the pace was too fast. Then, after that, there was nobody else there and Tanner ran solo for about the last two miles."

Norman's time was 10 seconds faster than any boy in any classification. It's no wonder he'll be running for Iowa State next year as a freshman.

"I went there for a visit, and really loved Ames," Norman said. "I felt like I connected with the coaches really well, and the guys on the team are cool. The training philosophy they have there is something I can buy into, and the program has been building over the past few years."

Those around the state who may be happy to see Norman move on to the next level should be warned - his younger brothers are next.

Mason Norman, a freshman at TCA, finished 38th in the 3A race, and the youngest, Ian, is in sixth grade.

"I think when Mason gets bigger, if he really focuses, starts working and is diligent about doing the little things, he's going to be very good - even better than me," Norman said.

Gazette Preps Peak Performer of the Week: Aumiere Shedrick, Harrison football

Gazette Preps Peak Performer of the Week: Aumiere Shedrick, Harrison football

Sat, Jan 1, 2000 - 12:00 AM

As Aumiere Shedrick was running wild through the Pueblo County defense Friday, he couldn't help but wonder if the night he was having was really happening.

The Harrison sophomore running back galloped for 207 yards and five touchdowns - scoring all but one of his team's points in a 35-26 victory.

"I've always wanted this moment to happen - to be on varsity and be able to do big things, not only for myself, but for my teammates as well," Shedrick said. "I was able to do that Friday night, and it was an honor."

The 5-foot-10, 215-pounder is hard to bring down once he gets his powerful legs rolling. He leads a young team - with only four seniors playing big minutes - and has been the key to an offensive explosion.

"It was unreal - like a dream - to have a game like that, but I couldn't do any of this without my teammates, and without my line," Shedrick said. "The line is tremendous, and they take care of all their key assignments and have helped me get to where I am right now."

Where he is through eight games is fourth in the state in 3A rushing yards with 1,117 - which is 12th most in the state, regardless of classification.

Since opening the season 0-2, the Panthers have won six straight, averaging 37 points in that stretch, helped by Shedrick's 11 touchdowns. He also has 19 receptions for 171 yards.

"Aumiere is the cog that gets us going, and it sets up everything else we do," Harrison coach Al Melo said. "We dictate everything we do off our running game, and he's our horse when it comes to running the football."

Harrison featured a balanced rushing attack last season, but lost 72 percent of its ground production to graduation. Somebody had to step up, and Shedrick was up to the challenge.

"I knew I had some pretty big shoes to fill, because we lost a lot of talented seniors from last season," Shedrick said.

"Coach told me at the beginning of the season that I would be the starter, and that gave me a lot of confidence and motivation."

Shedrick ran for 275 yards against rival Sierra on Oct. 7, so his five-score outburst against Pueblo County didn't necessarily surprise his coach.

"Aumiere is quick, and he's a big kid," Melo said. "He's very powerful in the lower body, and that's one of his strong points. It's hard for anybody to get a good shot on him. This wasn't a shock, because he was a kid who got varsity playing time last year, and played well."

The biggest test for Shedrick and the Panthers comes Thursday, when they travel to two-time defending 3A state champion Pueblo East.

Both teams are 3-0 in 3A South Central play, making this one of the biggest games in Harrison history.

"We're treating this as a regular game," Shedrick said. "We know what we have to accomplish; this is a proving game for us, because we want to show people that we aren't who they think we are. We aren't little or undersized, and we can play with the best teams out there. I'm very excited for this game."