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Phased plan begins Monday to resume athletic activity on Roaring Fork School District grounds

Student-athletes in the Roaring Fork School District may resume voluntary sports workouts using outdoor school facilities starting Monday, but with strict health precautions in place to protect against coronavirus spread.

School district officials announced Friday that they have developed a phased plan to return to athletic participation, based on local and state health and safety requirements and recommendations to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The plan was reviewed by the public health departments in Garfield, Pitkin, and Eagle counties, according to a district news release. It will involve a tiered return to sports activities through the summer, leading up to a tentative start to formal practices in August, depending on where things stand at that point.

Athletic participation during phase one this summer for schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt will require: 

  • All coaches and students to be screened for COVID-19 signs and symptoms before participating in each workout. 
  • All workouts will be held outside; there will not be access to locker facilities, weight rooms and gyms. 
  • All activities must adhere to a maximum of 10 people, reflecting the most restrictive local requirement currently in place (This number may change as public health requirements change.)
  • All workouts will be conducted in student cohorts to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. 
  • Social distancing must be maintained, and masks must be worn unless the activity is exempted (swimming, distance running and high-intensity aerobic activity)
  • All participants must use their own equipment for ball sports; all shared equipment, such as weights, must be sanitized before and after use. 

The full plan for resuming school sports activities can be viewed here.

“Plans for phases two and three become increasingly less restrictive in conjunction with the continued reopening and expansion of activities in our community,” the news release states. “The district reserves the right to change the restrictions and requirements outlined in this document as needed to support the health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches, and the broader community.” 

All summer workouts are voluntary for students, per Colorado High School Activities Association bylaws, and coaches. Students who choose to participate in RFSD athletic activities over the summer must complete a waiver

Coal Ridge shortstop to become first Titan to play in college

Coal Ridge had never seen a baseball player continue their playing career in college.

A shortstop who’s 5-foot-6, depending on who you ask, wasn’t supposed to be the one to break the glass ceiling. Jared Lund’s height is too often the first thing people notice. Opposing fans, players and even recruiters have talked about it. They’ve even used it to discount his talent.

The thing detractors don’t see is the work that Lund has put in, dating all the way back to fifth grade. He’s played above his age group nearly every year. When the player pool went from middle schoolers to high schoolers, he even won the starting shortstop gig as a freshman.

Now he’s committed to Minnesota West Community & Technical College. Awaiting him are at least four players vying for the same position. He’ll have to overcome them with a year off dragging him back.

It doesn’t matter.

“I’ve always loved being the underdog,” Lund said. “That just makes you hungry. That makes me want to prove people wrong. There’s nothing I can do about my height, about my size really, but what I can change is my attitude towards the game and how I choose to play.”

In just his first season, Lund put together a .340 batting average and .485 on-base percentage in 19 games. The latter tally was the lowest he put up in three years as the Titans’ voice in the infield and leadoff hitter.

He also pitched, and well. Lund had a 3.62 earned run average in 77.1 innings across 27 appearances for the club.

Lund did anything he could to help the team.

“He’s a guy that leads the cheers at the end of the game, he leads the stretching,” Titans’ head coach Dan Larsen said. “He’ll call people out if they’re not working as well.”  

At one point, Lund even had to call himself out. After taking an accelerated class as a junior, he became ineligible because of the grades he was earning. All the while, he was dealing with problems at home – mainly the divorce of his parents.

The cancelled senior season will affect both his road into college and his road out of high school.

“My junior year was a tough year for me,” Lund said. “Having all of these new problems to deal with, I wasn’t the most motivated I’ve been. Now that I don’t get a senior year of baseball, it’s overwhelming. I ended my career on a year I wouldn’t have wanted.

“I had the entire offseason of baseball and I wanted to come back and be the player that everyone looked up to.”

Helping Lund has been his father, Glen. Glen was the assistant coach at Coal Ridge dating back to Jared’s eighth grade year and coached him in Little League since his time on the region’s All-Star team.

“The age thing, at the beginning, was really about opportunity,” Glen said. “He made the All-Stars and he was the youngest of the kids on that team – he wasn’t going to play. When you get to play with older kids, I feel you get better because you’re playing up. You’re not stagnant. You don’t think you’re the better player, so you have to work harder.”

Going into college, Jared faces a similar situation.

At Minnesota West, the roster is large. Jared will once again be one of the youngest in a large pool of players.  

Now that he’s on to a bigger and better team, Jared is excited for the opportunity to compete against guys with a similar drive.

“I’m excited for the chemistry of the team,” Jared said. “In high school, a lot of kids play the sport just to play the sport – they don’t really care for the game like I do. I’m just excited because all of these kids have worked to get to the college level. They enjoy it, they love the game.

“I love the competition.”

sports@postindependent.com

Glenwood Springs linebacker commits to Lake Forest College

Kelton McPherson played a lot. He played three sports in high school, all the way from ice hockey to lacrosse to football.

The latter of the three will now be his avenue to an education as he recently committed to Lake Forest College in Lake Forest, Illinois.

McPherson plans to compete for a starting defensive spot once he arrives.

“My dream scenario is to obviously start my freshman year and play all four years,” McPherson said. “But, one thing I’m excited for — since I have been a three-year starter, I haven’t had as much competition for our starting position — that (competition) is one thing that I look forward to a lot.”

In his time at Glenwood Springs High School, McPherson played linebacker. He was also named a captain his senior year and played nearly every snap.

Free time for McPherson largely consisted of just as much competition, only with his five siblings, instead of opponents. Lately, he’s even competed with his brother in the weight room. The drive isn’t new to his former head coach, Pat Engle.

“Kelton is a coach’s dream as a football player,” Engle said. “He’s an aggressive, mature and intelligent football player. He was kind of the heart and soul of our teams.”

McPherson even gives credit to his family for that impact.

“My dad taught me to be very competitive,” McPherson said. “He was my hockey coach, and me and my brother are 11 months apart. So, we have had a lot of competitions with each other and definitely have always thought we had to one-up each other.”

Though he has yet to depart for Illinois, McPherson’s already begun participating in the team’s workout program. Alongside him has been his brother, Nolan.

With all of the family impact on his athletic life, the decision to head to Lake Forest was put squarely on Kelton’s shoulders.

“We have a large family of children and they all have their own strengths and passions,” Kelton’s mother, Lisa, said. “It’s at the point right now where he needs to do what makes his heart happy. He needs to have the path that is best for him so that he’s happy and successful.

“And in all, it was what fit best for him, because we’ve always encouraged them to try as many things as possible and to pursue what makes (them) happy and fulfilled.”

Ahead, Kelton will head to the Midwest once the country opens back up. Behind him, he leaves a legacy as a Demons’ football stalwart.

“Kelton is just an all-day tough kind of kid,” Engle said. “I think that when you look at someone, and the word that you describe (with is) tough — there’s not too many kids that don’t want that description.”

sports@postindependent.com

Basalt’s Zoe Vozick to play DI softball at George Mason

For a while, it didn’t look like softball was going to be part of Zoe Vozick’s future plans. The recent Basalt High School graduate was committed to the University of Washington as a student and was coming to terms of a life without her favorite sport when a different Washington intervened.

“I was super late in the recruiting process and I felt like nothing was going my way,” Vozick said. “As soon as the possibility of playing softball was re-introduced, I knew it felt true to my heart and that I had to do it.”

In a last-second move, Vozick reached out to the George Mason University program, which was in need of a class of 2020 catcher. From there, the stars aligned rather quickly, and now Vozick is headed to Fairfax, Virginia — just outside of Washington, D.C. — to play NCAA Division I softball for the Patriots.

“It felt as if all the dots were connecting, getting to play competitive softball, study what I want, in a location that I want,” said Vozick, who had also looked into various DII and DIII programs. “None of them felt right, which is what made George Mason so exciting. As soon as the offer was there, I knew that it was the one.”

Vozick was a star for BHS softball. A standout catcher who also dabbled in the infield, she was one of the best bats in the state. She hit .667 this past fall as a senior, when the Longhorns had one of their best seasons in program history, going 23-2 overall and advancing to the Class 3A state quarterfinals.

Her favorite memory as a Longhorn? It was Vozick’s freshman year, when she made a diving catch to help keep her team in front against Delta in a battle for the league lead. She said that was “when I first fell in love with softball,” and “not because I made a good play, but because I got to experience the familial feeling softball encompasses.”

That family aspect, especially on road trips, is what Vozick will remember the most, and it’s that same feeling she looks forward to the most when she heads to George Mason.

“Every relationship I’ve had with them has been super positive,” Vozick said. “It’s been really exciting to meet a ton of new girls. That’s always been my favorite part of the sport is just making those long-lasting connections.”

The Patriots play out of the Atlantic 10 Conference and were 7-12 overall this past spring before the novel coronavirus pandemic brought an early end to the softball season. They finished 22-25 overall in 2019.

George Mason will have a new head coach in Justin Walker this coming season. One of the team’s former assistants, he was promoted after Joe Verbanic stepped down in April after 16 seasons leading the program. Walker is the coach who offered Vozick a spot on the team.

“I reached out to them and almost immediately the coach responded to me and said he was interested,” said Vozick, who officially committed May 18.

Not only did Vozick land a spot on the GMU softball team, but she was admitted into the school’s Honors College. The proximity to the nation’s capital was another major draw, considering she plans to study social justice and human rights.

Having grown up as the only girl on various baseball teams and having to battle through those gender stigmas, Vozick has a desire to use sport as a way to bridge that divide between the sexes. Her senior capstone project at BHS included making a documentary on female empowerment.

“It was super motivating and so powerful that I decided I wanted to continue doing that,” Vozick said. “I just want to help women in developing countries play sports in more male-dominated societies.”

Vozick plans to spend the summer playing softball for the Colorado Angels, a competitive travel team based out of Denver. With tournaments all over the country — pandemic allowing — this will allow her to face other players destined for the college ranks.

She’ll head to George Mason in mid-August, where she’ll get to see the campus for the first time. There typically is a short fall season for baseball and softball at that level, while the main season takes place in the spring.

“I’m really excited,” Vozick said. “I’m excited to play and compete at that level and meet those new girls and coaches and just gain all those new experiences.”

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Lost season reveals strength in Coal Ridge standout Marin Simons

Coal Ridge track coach Ben Kirk hadn’t seen anything like soon-to-be-senior, Marin Simons.

She came to him, fresh off a freshman year in which she set the high school’s high jump record at 5’1”, with a request: Let me bring the high jump pit to my house in the offseason.

The result was a 5’3” jump, just recently, during what would’ve been her junior season and a continuance of a seldom-seen work ethic.

Simons maintains her goal of competing in college, hopefully for the University of Utah if things break the right way. To get there, she hopes to jump “at least 5’6”” in her senior campaign next school year to take home a state title.

Kirk had spent days watching Simons off to the side of football or cross country practice, by herself, jumping over and over again.

“We had a conversation and I said, ‘Well, if you’re not doing (any other sports), you better be training every single day,’” Kirk said. “And most high school athletes go, ‘Oh yeah, of course I will.’ After a couple of weeks, that stops. Every single day after school, she would go out and high jump until the weather got so bad that they took the pits to their house and she did the same thing.

“Her dedication to it was incredible. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it before – Every single day for like two hours, she’d go out and she’d run. And she would work out that she jumped by herself.”

Simons wasn’t a track fiend entering high school. She’d dabbled in several other sports with moderate success, even in her first year of high school. Once the record was set, and her events ended on the podium, she attached to track and field.

“I feel like maybe she had struggled a little bit to fit in (to a sport),” Simons’ mom Ashlee said. “She had tried different sports and hadn’t really succeeded. Then she goes to do track and it was that day in Hotchkiss (and it was) just awesome that she had found something that she could feel the thrill of being first.

“It just gave her new life. She became really dedicated to track. And she became really excited and it really changed who she was.”

The Hotchkiss Invitational was when things changed for Marin. Her second-place finish changed her mindset from having fun to truly working and competing for a state title and a college scholarship.

She finished 6th at the CHSAA 3A State Championships her freshman year. Last year, she finished in a four-way tie for 3rd.

Coal Ridge’s Marin Simons didn’t let shoulder surgery and COVID-19 stop her from working on her track events including high jump.
Marin Simons

Through competition and training, Marin sustained a shoulder injury that required surgery. The rehab and lack of training available cost her a chance at further improvement before her sophomore year.

“It’s not so much the shoulder that kind of affected me,” Marin said. “When you’re not working out for eight weeks, you lose muscle. So I had to go and rebuild all the muscles everywhere.”

A canceled season due to COVID-19 didn’t stop Marin either. Instead of finishing her junior season, she’s gone through track events by herself. Her mom records them and keeps track of her progress.

For her, watching Marin keep such a work ethic in a sport with such gradual success has been eye-opening.

“Failure is just a part of life, right?” Ashlee said. “That is one thing in high jump, it’s really difficult because no matter who you are, you knock the bar off at some point. At some point, you can’t jump any higher and you have to turn around and walk away and begin again.

“I think that that is a crazy metaphor for life – sometimes you fail multiple times before you achieve something.”

For now, she’s merely showing teammates and classmates exactly how to avoid cheating the sport.

“I think it’s something that, as a program, you will always reflect back on and our kids will remember her,” Kirk said. “She’ll have a record for a long time – hopefully we’ll get her picture up in the school as a state champion. I think those kinds of examples are huge and the other kids on the team notice it too.”

lzahlmann@postindependent.com

A pair of Glenwood Springs track standouts sign to compete in college

Glenwood Springs High School has a history of sending track and field athletes to the next level. Both Kuba Bartnik and AJ Adams represent the latest crop of graduating seniors to head to the collegiate level, albeit without their senior season.

In the last 10 years, Glenwood has sent 22 athletes into college to compete. The latest two had to handle a lot of the work themselves.

“Last year was a record year for our program in terms of the number of kids that moved onto the college level,” coach Blake Risner said. “Those two were watching from the side and saying, ‘That’s gonna be us next year.’ Then to have their season taken away, I think for them to persevere and do all the college contacts on their own and to end up signing with successful programs, it just shows kids that, you know, what you do on the track combined with what you do on your own can really lead to a lot of success.”

Between the two, Bartnik a runner and Adams a jumper, they placed in the top-3 finishers, 28 respective times.

The former is heading to Adams State in Alamosa, while Adams will head to Concordia University-Irvine in Irvine, California.

They each leave a different legacy in Glenwood.

For Adams, it’s one of a kid who hadn’t ever competed in track and field leading into high school but made incredible leaps in a short period.

“I’ve always been a very athletic person with jumping high and (having) hops,” Adams said. “It was pretty easy to get with the higher heights, but as I’ve developed, as I’ve worked on more things like the form and all that, I feel like it’s been a night and day difference and I’ve only been high jumping for pretty much, let’s think like two years.

“I feel like I have a long way to go before I even come close to the ceiling.”

In Risner’s mind, Adams could one day “jump 7 feet,” if he continues to work on his skills. In high school, he brought the jumping equipment to his own house and used a single, motivating conversation from his coach to develop a work ethic.

“His freshman year, he wasn’t really able to get the most out of high jumping because the lack of flexibility and the lack of a technique that he was demonstrating,” Risner said. “So I talked to him about it and I said, ‘Hey, we can’t fix this in a season. But you can certainly … take care of some of these issues by working hard on the off-season.’

“For him, just to hear a couple of words from my coach and take all the time in the off-season to make improvements, you know, and (now) he gets to spend 12 months a year working on one sport and one event like that – I think he’s just going to take off.”

The mentality is shared with Bartnik who enters college as a runner who, “ran every race like it was his last.” Risner has always preached to his runners to give everything, but Bartnik was the example of what it looks like in action.

“I just want to go down being known as someone that will work his tail off day in and day out and just leave it out on the track every single time,” Bartnik said. “I want to keep that true every single time I run, because nothing is ever guaranteed. If anything happens, like an injury or whatever the case may be, I want to leave a lasting image that hard work does prevail over talent.”

Whatever their legacy is in college, the one at Glenwood Springs is cemented.

lzahlmann@postindependent.com

Rifle’s Carter Pressler commits to play football at Colorado Mesa University

The bloodline at Colorado Mesa University for the Pressler family runs deep. Carter’s great uncle Wayne Jensen, his father Rod and his brother Brooks all attended the school and played sports.

Carter’s father and brother both urged him to attend Ottawa University in Arizona to play basketball after his senior year concluded at Rifle High School. Carter’s dream was to receive a scholarship to play basketball in Grand Junction.

The majority of the house insisted, but one ride cleared things up.

“Carter and I just took a drive alone and Carter looked at me and said, ‘Mom, I’m not ready to leave my family,’” Carter’s mom, Erin Pressler said. “And he wasn’t afraid to discuss that.”

During his senior season, Carter had the same problems his older brother endured. A torn ACL in his third game of the year against Glenwood Springs spelled the end of a season – at least everyone thought.

After talking to doctors, Carter made the decision to continue playing with a less-than-healthy knee. After each tweak of that knee, through the tears and pain, he continued and finished a final year worthy of being considered a college prospect.

The potential for collegiate football showed itself a year earlier though.

Against Delta, through the pouring rain, Carter intercepted a third-quarter pass and returned it for a touchdown – a play which ended up being the turning point in his career. They went on to win the game 34-7 after trailing 7-6 at halftime.

“Delta’s always so tough and when we went down to Delta, it was pouring rain – maybe as hard as I’ve ever seen it rain in Western Colorado,” Rifle head coach Damon Wells said. “We were having a tough time dealing with exchanges and stuff because the ball was so slippery.

“The energy change – he changed the outlook. And I think one of the things that a lot of people don’t pay attention to is, when Carter did that, it was sheer joy for everyone on the sideline.”

Erin watched and hopped out into the pouring rain in celebration.

“It was raining so hard you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face,” Erin said. “I tried to stay out there as long as I could, and I finally gave up and went to the car.

“I’ll never forget that. Right when I turned on the windshield wipers, all I could see was Carter running towards me and I got out of the car – It makes me teary-eyed thinking about it. I got out of the car, there’s all these people next to me and I scream, ‘Oh my god, that’s my kid! Oh my God, that’s my kid!’”

From that point on, the path for Carter swapped from one of a high school athlete to a possible college career. A meeting with former Rifle State Champion, Casie Dunlap, also added to the change.

Dunlap came to practice during Carter’s season and simply asked, “Have you ever considered playing college ball?”

The confidence boost from the exchange carried through much of the year.

“(Junior year) was my first time playing cornerback, I really didn’t know what to expect,” Carter said. “Then after that, I had the feel, I felt like I had everything on lockdown – keys, reads, all of that.”

After the talk, Carter went on to intercept eight passes in the next two years and deflect seven passes.

Heading to CMU, Wells sees a player who has the skillset to stand out.

“I think that the way the game is played now lends itself to those athletic kids that could run and that are smart and selfless as well,” Wells said. “When I say you can do whatever you want with Carter, I mean he’s not a kid that has to be a boundary corner or has to be a field corner.

“You can move him (between) positions and he’ll do anything you ask him to do. And the beauty is that there’s the same level of expertise and level of care and effort wherever you move him around.”

lzahlmann@postindependent.com

Some high school sports could begin in Colorado this summer

Some high school sports could begin again in Colorado as soon as this summer.

At the very least, the Colorado High School Activities Association announced Friday that a return to sports, at least discussions about returning, are set to ramp up June 1.

The organization has developed a Resocialization Task Force which “will be comprised of CHSAA Sports Medicine Advisory members, educational leaders representing all levels of administration, classifications and state geography” according to an update sent out by CHSAA.

Many of the possibilities that will be discussed by the task force June 1 are still subject to federal,state and local health guidelines.

“Between June 1 and when fall sports are slated to return, schools will have the decision-making authority within state and federal guidelines to conduct coach and student physical contact,” CHSAA Commissioner Rhonda Blanford-Green said. “Federal guidelines, in terms of social distancing, will probably not be lifted, so it doesn’t matter what a school district wants to do. The state and federal guidelines are (likely) not going to allow for the ability for students or patrons to come within 6 feet of each other.”

Among the possibilities will be the start of low-risk fall sports. All decisions are reliant on federal and state guidelines, but if those are partially lifted soon, low-risk sports activity could resume as soon as June 1.

But the task force’s main priority will be putting a plan in place for the possibility of fall sports. Physical contact, which sports may or may not be allowed, guidelines for maintaining a low-risk atmosphere for athletes and even the staff increase which may be needed for each school to resume, will all be topics for discussion.

“The CHSAA commissioners, with the guidance of the task force, will look at a variety of different ways to resume sports, even if it’s done incrementally with certain sports that are low risk and then building into more high risk,” Green said. “I think we’re in a proactive mode… If we can (move forward), what does that look like for diverse sports? And what does that look like with facilities and educational relaxation of non-contact?

“I think there’s optimism that we can begin with specific sports that do fit within the federal and state guidelines for social distancing and public gatherings.”

As of now, there are no guarantees fall sports will take place on time or at all. CHSAA will still be in charge of staying within federal and state restrictions but will allow for schools to make their own decisions when the bans are lifted.

“After June 1, the decisions become local,” Green said. “I just got an email from Montrose — they have already made a decision that they’re not going to allow the contact until July 6. Jefferson County School District said they’re not going to allow it until July 30.

“There will already be diverse decisions made after June 1 on how lenient or how restricted (schools) are going to be with physical contact with coaches and students through the summer.”

lzahlmann@postindependent.com

Pandemic shifts the view of Glenwood Springs’ senior

Sometimes in life, unforeseen events grant a dose of perspective.

After a torn MCL, meniscus and dislocated kneecap in his final football game, senior Sam Fitzwilliams went through three months of physical therapy. Once that was done, he worked out and put on nearly 25 pounds in preparation for his real love: baseball.

The season was made up of a single preseason game before it was canceled altogether. But his story isn’t one of anger toward an unpredictable problem.

Instead, it’s about a shift in view.

“When there was still a chance they were going to play, he was pretty focused still,” Fitzwilliams’ father Scott said. “Now that it’s over and it’s been completely canceled, he’s looking forward to other things.”

Nights of thought and discussion made the other thing clear: law school.

Sam’s been accepted and intends to head to the University of Colorado in the fall where he’ll take on the Leeds School of Business and minor in environmental science.

A 3.8 weighted grade point average at Glenwood Springs High School has allowed Sam to enter CU without having to deal with the burden of full tuition – another key reason to bypass a career in baseball, though he plans to play club at the university.

After his four years at CU, he plans to take the Law School Admission Test. If successful, he wants to go to either the University of Denver or continue at CU for his law degree.

“I’ve always been fascinated with law and the way our country is run,” Sam said. “I also am pretty outdoorsy and love the environment, so I want to focus on environmental law, rather than civil.”

Through the decision process, Fitzwilliams spoke with his father who was once a Division III baseball standout at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, a program which at the time was towards the top of the nation.

Scott made clear to his son the physical and mental difficulties of competing past high school.

“Even back then, it took a lot of time – now it’s a whole different ballgame,” Scott said. “They start with a fall schedule; we didn’t have to do anything in the fall. We just showed up and figured out who was on the team and that was pretty much it until January.

“Kids have to be really committed because it’s a lot of work.”

A year off from baseball made attending a school strictly for sports even more difficult. Joining new teammates and getting back into peak baseball shape – all without the luxury of live at-bats – wasn’t going to be worth it given Sam’s other interests.

Many players have had their chances for offers all but taken away during the virus’s reign. The one thing Sam’s lost which sticks above it in his mind was the loss of a team.

“I’ll remember the people,” Sam said. “My friends have kind of turned into brothers almost because I’ve been playing with them since I (started) baseball. We’ve always had such a great group of guys. That’s definitely what I’ll remember the most.”

Given the players around him, the team’s clear upward direction and a chance to once again play the role of cleanup hitter, a season could’ve made even more memories.

It likely would’ve also changed the final decision.

“I love baseball, it’s definitely my No. 1 sport,” Sam said. “Depending on how I did – I think I would’ve done plenty well since I trained harder than I ever have – I think that would’ve made a huge difference in my decision to go pursue that Division II career.”

lzahlmann@postindependent.com

A canceled season upends Glenwood pitcher’s ultimate goal

Four years of high school weren’t supposed to result in a leap of faith for Glenwood Springs High School senior Cole Houston. 

As a pitcher who was already nearing 90 miles per hour in his final year, he was set to receive multiple offers to play on scholarship.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, those opportunities vanished quickly. It left Houston without a chance to prove himself, and without a chance to finish things he started with teammates who were by his side as far back as little league.

Originally, the Colorado High School Activities Association postponed spring sports. Then they pushed them back further before finally cancelling all activities for the remainder of the school year on April 21.

“Last season, I was so worked up, everything was so mental,” Houston said. “Coming out of last year, I knew this was a really important season because a lot of people didn’t think the best of me. I knew I could do a lot better.” 

Houston was already receiving interest during tournaments before the spring season as a member of the Rocky Mountain Oysters, a local travel-ball team. 

“We played at a couple of tournaments and there were a couple of people that came up and talked to me after,” Houston said. “I was planning on going to a couple of camps too. I was going to go to (The Colorado School of) Mines for one but it got canceled.

“Ideally, my other top option was to try to get a scholarship from Mines for baseball.”  

To get there, Houston spent the summer in construction, working out as many muscles as possible. He spent several days throwing 60-pitch bullpens as well to strengthen his already quick arm.

Demons head coach Eric Nieslanik recognized Houston’s off-season growth before spring sports were canceled.

“Cole is gifted with an arm with just unbelievable speed and velocity on the baseball,” Nieslanik said. “We had traveled down to Delta, March 7 for a scrimmage and Cole did a fantastic job. He dominated – 80% strikes, location was there, velocity was up. I saw some great signs for his year.”

The mental hurdles Houston battled in his junior year were gone. His fastball’s always been quick, but now it was under control, too – a good indicator that his disappointing stats were going to give way to something recruiters could embrace.

Putting together a better season was a priority, but so was embarking on a senior campaign with close teammates.

“I’ve been playing baseball with the kids on my team for the past 10 years,” Houston said. “We were finally ready to capitalize on what we’ve learned. We all had a lot of goals and our team is just such a great group of guys.

“I was waiting for this season for the past five years.”

The canceled season resulted in Houston committing to go to California Polytechnic State University where he’ll attempt to make the team as a walk-on.

Houston excelled in school, specifically engineering, and hopes to make strides on the West Coast. Competing for a spot on the baseball team will be something he’ll enjoy. Dropping hockey, despite years of progress will be hard as well, but the memories made in both will last.

“I’ll miss being friends with the kids you played with ever since you were little,” Houston said. “They’ve been through every single moment you’ve had, so it’s just fun to share moments with kids – forming a ton of friendships.”

As of now, local coaches are working to organize a 4A statewide baseball tournament for seniors and other players alike who missed out on the season. The event would take place over the summer and serve as a Senior Day for many.

If it doesn’t happen, Houston’s story as a Demon will be over – a book missing a couple of chapters.

“Everybody had progressed into such a great baseball player,” Houston said. “To see the damage we would’ve been able to do as a team would be really cool, but we weren’t even given the opportunity to see it.” 

lzahlmann@postindependent.com