Top local sports stories of 2017: World Cup Finals, anyone? Ruggerfest?
Bon voyage, 2017.
What a year it was for Aspen-area sports. As is customary, I compiled a quick list of what I believe were the top 10 stories of the past dozen months. I’m probably missing something big, but I don’t think there will be any argument about No. 1.
So, without further ado, the best of the local sports world from 2017. You can read about the top stories from 2016 here.
1. World Cup Finals
It’s difficult to make ski history in Aspen, but March’s World Cup Finals were something special. Not since the 1950 World Championships had Aspen hosted a ski event of this magnitude, and not since Vail in 1997 had the Finals been held on U.S. soil. The week was highlighted by Mikaela Shiffrin’s long overdue coronation as the overall women’s World Cup champion, something she seems well on her way to repeating in 2018.
2. Ruggerfest 50
While Ruggerfest, the annual rugby tournament hosted by the Gentlemen of Aspen, went off as normal in 2017, the milestone anniversary has to be noted. There aren’t many events in Aspen that have gone on every year without fail for five decades, but you can always rely on the fun, foul-mouthed revelry that is Ruggerfest. Here’s to another 50 years, Gents.
3. Aspen High girls swimming wins 3A
If you win a state championship, you’ll probably make this list. That’s exactly what the Aspen High School girls swim team did in February, winning the inaugural Class 3A state championship in Thornton. Senior Kennidy Quist, who now swims for Harvard, won state titles in both the 50- and 100-yard freestyles, and then-sophomore Davy Brown won a state title in the 100-yard backstroke. AHS coach Kathleen Callahan was the 3A coach of the year.
4. Sunday Abarca three-peats at track
The Aspen High track standout concluded his prep career in dazzling fashion. Abarca, who signed with Adams State, won the Class 3A boys 400-meter title back in May. It was his third-straight state championship in the event, and he did it by breaking his own state record. He also won the 200-meter dash state title in 2017 and was second in the 100-meter dash, despite breaking his personal best time in the event.
5. AJH girls head to hockey nationals
For a hockey-crazed town, it was surprising no area team had ever represented on a national level. But that’s what the Aspen Leafs Tier II 14U AA girls hockey team did last April, when it represented the Rocky Mountain District at the 2017 USA Hockey National Championships in Troy, Michigan. Since Aspen Junior Hockey’s founding in 1972, it’s believed no local team until then had ever qualified for a national tournament like that.
6. The pre-olympic hype
Yes, I know the Winter Olympics are in 2018, but much of the hype for it began in 2017. And it’s never too early to get excited for the Games. Among last year’s winter highlights was Aspen skier Torin Yater-Wallace winning the first ski halfpipe Olympic qualifier in Mammoth, which still has him as the frontrunner for making the U.S. team for the February Olympics. Then there was valley local Johno McBride returning as the head speed coach for the U.S. men’s alpine team for the Olympic season. McBride is most known for being Bode Miller’s coach for his two overall World Cup titles.
7. High school football
What a fun year for area high school football. Basalt won its second consecutive league title and by beating Salida in the first round of the November playoffs won a Class 2A playoff game for the first time in school history. The Longhorns’ only other playoff win came in 1A back in 1979. Then, there was the resurgence of Aspen High football under second-year coach Karson Pike, who recently took a job at his alma mater in Minnesota. The Skiers went from 2-7 in 2016 to 8-2 in 2017, highlighted by their 80-point performance in the season-opener against Middle Park and a return to the postseason for the first time since 2013.
8. Basalt High school boys basketball
The 2016-17 season was one of the best ever for the Basalt High School boys’ basketball team. Led by senior Michael Glen, the Longhorns finished 21-4 overall and advanced to the Class 3A quarterfinals for the first time in 28 years. Glen, the Western Slope League player of the year and first team all-state selection, now plays for the Colorado School of Mines.
9. Enduro returns
For the second time, Snowmass hosted a stage of the Enduro World Series, the flagship tour for enduro mountain biking. The Snowmass stage, which was the sixth of eight stops, was the only one in the United States. It was won by Australian legend Sam Hill and French superstar Cecile Ravanel. Unfortunately, the EWS won’t be back in 2018. However, Aspen Snowmass will host the Big Mountain Enduro Finals in August, which is pretty cool.
10. Nichole Mason gets recognized
I could go a million different directions with this last one, but I feel like we should give Nichole Mason one last nod. The Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club coach was named the 2017 USSA Snowboarding Domestic Coach of the Year as well as the 2017 USSA Development Coach of the Year. I’d say that’s noteworthy. Among her athletes is Summit County’s Chris Corning, who is currently having a breakthrough season in both big air and slopestyle and has already locked up a spot in the 2018 Olympics.
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Tejay van Garderen has long been one of the country’s top professional cyclists, having spent 12 seasons on the World Tour with various teams. His career came to an end in June when the 32-year-old announced his retirement.