The top local sports stories of 2016
Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley have to be among the ultimate sports buffets. The smorgasbord of options available makes it difficult to decide on an activity of choice, and makes it particularly challenging for sports writers to keep tabs of it all.
Then, choosing only five stories to summarize an entire year is basically impossible. Nonetheless, that’s what I tasked myself as 2017 is on the doorstep.
With some help from former sports editor Dale Strode, I chose these five stories as being truly unique for 2016. These aren’t necessarily the best stories, but the ones that most define the past 12 months in and around Aspen.
In no particular order, the top local sports stories of 2016:
AHS skiers win state title
The Aspen High School girls ski team didn’t disappoint in the state championships last winter, winning their first state title since 2013, and they did it on familiar snow.
With Aspen hosting the two-day finale — which is a combination of Alpine and Nordic events — the Skier girls finished with 618 points, edging Battle Mountain’s 597 points to win the overall crown. Summit was third with 591 points.
Strong across the board, highlights included top-10 finishes from Aspen’s Pascale Augspurger and Dolores Sharaf in the slalom race, Chelsea Moore and Nina Beidleman in the Nordic skate, Augspurger again in the giant slalom, and Logan McNamee and Beidleman in the Nordic classic race.
Leafs win inaugural RMJHL championship
Last winter was the first for the Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League, and the first for the Aspen Leafs U20 hockey team.
The Leafs finished second during the regular season to the Pikes Peak Miners, and the two teams met in the inaugural RMJHL championship game, hosted by the U.S. Air Force Academy. Both teams had identical season records (35-6) and had split the regular-season series, 4-4.
No surprise, the game went to overtime, and it was Aspen native Charlie Van Allen who scored the clincher, his goal giving the Leafs a 4-3 win and the RMJHL title.
Local skiers win national titles
Aspen has never been short of talented skiers, with two more locals adding their names to the skiing lore last winter.
Galena Wardle, then 17, won her first national title in March when she won the women’s Alpine combined championship at the Nature Valley U.S. Alpine Ski Championships in Sun Valley, Idaho. She also finished eighth in the super-G at the national championships.
Only days before, Aspen native Wiley Maple, 25, won his second consecutive U.S. national downhill title at the NorAm Cup Finals, hosted by Aspen Mountain.
Abarca wins another state title in track
Sunday Abarca, who last spring was a junior at Aspen High School, is fast. In May at the state track and field championships at Denver’s Jeffco Stadium, Abarca won his second consecutive Class 3A state title in the 400-meter race.
Abarca trailed much of the race, but over the final 100 meters found another gear and edged Jared Keul of Manitou Springs at the finish. His winning time of 48.54 seconds was both a 3A state record and an AHS record.
Abarca also finished third in the 100-meter and 200-meter races, giving him three podiums at the state meet.
Basalt football’s resurgence
It was a long time coming for the Basalt High School football program, but the wait was worth it. With a talented senior class, the Longhorns went 7-3 in the fall and won their first league title in more than 30 years.
After a 1-2 start to the season, BHS ran through the 2A Western Slope League, including a big home win over Moffat County and a road win over rival Roaring Fork to clinch the outright title. The season ended with a tough loss to D’Evelyn in a playoff game hosted by the Longhorns.
It was believed to have been Basalt’s first home playoff game in school history.
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Under bluebird skies with 160 acres under their boots, hundreds of skiers and snowboarders took to Aspen Mountain for opening day Wednesday.