Champions, college commitments and COVID: 2021 in sports

Making up for lost time from the previous year, the Roaring Fork Valley got back to games in January.

By December, a slew of honors, state champions and college commitments graced the area’s athletics programs.

Roaring Fork boys soccer runs through Colorado’s top teams to state championship

The Rams had to prove it all season, eventually leaving no doubt as to who the top 3A team in Colorado was.

Roaring Fork’s Josh Hernandez chips the ball past Jefferson Academy’s Andrew Bauer for the game winning goal in the 3A state championship at Weidner Field in Colorado Springs on Nov. 12.
Rich Allen/Post Independent

Coal Ridge nipped at Roaring Fork’s heels all season for the championship of a de facto 3A/4A Western Slope League West, created to simplify travel around the on-and-off Glenwood Canyon closures caused by mudslides. The two teams eventually ended with equal league play records at season’s end, with a 5-0 Rams victory over the Titans being the difference maker.

The Rams were even ranked lower in the state playoff bracket at No. 11 — the Titans were placed No. 6.

It didn’t matter. Coal Ridge took a first round exit against No. 27 Prospect Ridge, who the Rams dealt with handily, 5-1, on Nov. 2.

Then Roaring Fork beat No. 3 Faith Christian in the quarterfinals, then No. 2 Atlas Preparatory in the semis. Against No. 1 Jefferson Academy in the finals on Nov. 12 in Colorado Springs, Roaring Fork knotted the game at 1-1 with less than a minute remaining in the first half and scored the game winning goal with just under five minutes to play off the foot of sophomore Josh Hernandez to clinch the state title.

Roaring Fork dealt Jefferson Academy its first loss all season and delivered the Rams’ first team sports title since 1991, the first ever in boys soccer, despite a trip to the finals in 2019.

Ross Barlow was named the 3A Player of the Year, and Nick Forbes was named the classification’s Coach of the Year by the Colorado High School Activities Association. Three additional Rams were named first-team all-state — Emi Magana, Jr. Mercado and Carlos Perez Rios — and two were named honorable mention — Cole Pargiter-Walker and Braden Stainton.

Rifle plays up and wins state

The Bears had the odds stacked against them in the spring pandemic season — Rifle was playing up a classification, in 3A as opposed to their normal 2A. They had bid adieu to longtime head coach Damon Wells, with Todd Casebier stepping in to take the reins of the program.

The Rifle Bears celebrate after defeating The Classical Academy 35-34 for the spring 3A state title in Pueblo.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Learning a new system, the Bears took flight. A third-place finish in league propelled them into the playoffs as a No. 4 seed.

Rifle dispatched No. 5 The Academy Wildcats in round one, setting up a dramatic matchup with rival Glenwood Springs in the semifinals. The contest lived up to the hype, as the teams went into overtime tied at 14 before a Toto Fletchall rushing touchdown sealed the deal.

In the finals, Rifle met undefeated The Classical Academy — another traditionally 2A team. Rifle trailed until the third quarter, when another Fletchall touchdown gave the Bears a 21-20 lead after the two-point conversion.

Embrey Marantino’s 70-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter led to a late 35-26 lead that stood the test of a Titan score in response and gave the Bears their fourth state championship, 35-34.

Coal Ridge track sprints to state gold

Led by perhaps the most prolific athlete to come from Coal Ridge, the Titans claimed Garfield County’s first track and field state championship in 27 years.

The Coal Ridge girls track team pose with the 3A state championship trophy high for everyone to see as they were crowned state champions in track and field on Saturday. Cody Jones / Post Independent

Mikayla Cheney held down the long distance events, winning the 800 and taking second in the 1600. Taylor Wiescamp earned a couple of medals across shot put and discus. But it was Peyton Garrison who hauled in the most points. Garrison claimed gold in the 100-meter, 200-meter and 400-meter dashes and anchored a 4×400 relay that also took first.

For the performance — and three seasons of similar results — Garrison was rewarded with a full-ride scholarship from Montana State University. As far as Coal Ridge Athletic Director and track coach Ben Kirk could tell, it was the first such athletics scholarship to a Division I school in Titans history.

Glenwood swim and dive soaks in hardware

A diver of the year, a third-place finish at state and a college commitment marked a season to remember for Glenwood Springs’ swim and dive team.

Only Evergreen and Aspen performed better in the state championship in March. Two relay teams, Amelie Ogilby in the 500-free and Libby Claassen in the 1-meter dive all claimed bronze medals, leading the team to its overall third-place finish following an undefeated regular season.

For her efforts, Claassen was named 3A diver of the year. Her coach and mother Lara Claassen said Libby took a “huge leap forward” in both her ability to perform more difficult maneuvers and keep her focus, leading to her third place finish.

Fourth-place diver Abby Scruton earned praise as well, reeling in an offer to not only dive but also play soccer at Division I St. Francis College in Brooklyn, New York.

Ella Johnson to take flight in college

Standout distance runner Ella Johnson will take her speed to Air Force upon her graduation from Glenwood Springs High School, signing her letter of intent in November.

Glenwood Springs High School senior cross country and track runner Ella Johnson has committed to attend the Air Force Academy.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

Johnson placed fourth at the 4A state cross-country meet in late October, and on the track just missed the 4A podium in the 3200-meter in June. She was also a member of the Demons’ bronze-medal 4×800 team. In addition, she’s a standout student and plays an integral role on the Demons’ basketball team.

She’s hoping her commitment to the Air Force yields a role in the U.S. Space Force some day.

Reporter Rich Allen can be reached at 970-384-9131 or

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