Gripping sports story lines abound in ’09 |

Gripping sports story lines abound in ’09

Jeff Caspersen
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Alice McKennis, of the United States, races down the course during a training run for the women's World Cup downhill ski race in Lake Louise, Alberta, on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2009. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jonathan Hayward)

A Glenwood Springs High School football team that defied expectations.

A local skier in contention for a trip to the Olympics.

A spring-legged Roaring Fork athlete leaping to two state titles.

Lance Armstrong dropping in on a Carbondale time trial.

Those are just a few of the local sports story lines that seized our attention in 2009.

And they’re just a few of the indelible moments we’ll rehash over the next couple days as the Post Independent revisits the year’s top sports stories.

Today, we’ll take a look at handful of the happenings that gripped us in 2009. Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at a few more.

The stories are listed in no particular order.

As a 20-year-old with limited World Cup experience, New Castle’s Alice McKennis showed her future in alpine skiing is blindingly bright, taking 10th and 18th place in early-December downhill World Cup races in Lake Louise, Alberta.

McKennis, who earned World Cup starts by claiming the 2008-09 Nor-Am Cup downhill and super-G titles, is a legitimate contender to make the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

The Rowmark Ski Academy product entered the 2009-10 season rostered on the U.S. Ski Team’s C squad.

It came as no surprise to his former players. They always knew Roger Walters was destined to coach at the next level.

Roger Walters, one of the area’s most decorated prep coaches, realized his dream by taking over the Mesa State College women’s basketball program back in March.

Walters is the former boys head coach at both Rifle and Roaring Fork high schools. He enjoyed his greatest successes in Carbondale, where he owned a 115-17 record in five seasons as Roaring Fork’s frontman. He twice took the Rams to the state title game.

“He’s definitely one of the hardest-working coaches I’ve ever been around,” Torrey Udall, a 2008 Roaring Fork graduate now playing at Fort Lewis College, said at the time of Walters’ hiring. “He gets the most out of his players. He doesn’t let you settle for mediocre or a half effort. He demands a full effort. In doing so, it puts you in a position to be successful. You’ll be successful as long as you put in the time, as long as you invest yourself.”

It had been more than a decade since a Glenwood Springs High School basketball team could boast an outright 4A Western Slope League championship.

Combining to win 37 games, both the Demon boys and girls stood alone atop their leagues.

The boys hadn’t won a title – shared or otherwise – since 1993-94. The girls hadn’t won one outright since 1997-98, although they did share a championship with Moffat County in 2007-08.

Both teams enjoyed playoff success as well. For a third straight season, Glenwood’s girls advanced to the Great Eight round of the state playoffs. The boys made the Sweet 16.

“We definitely had a great season,” Katrina Selsor said after her final high school game, a loss to Broomfield in the state quarterfinals. Selsor now plays at Colorado State University-Pueblo. “All these girls stepped up to the plate. We had to replace four of our starting five from last year, so I don’t know, they just filled those shoes perfectly. We bonded really well as a team.”

Said Glenwood’s boys coach Greg Hire after a season-ending defeat to Lewis-Palmer: “It’s amazing. It’s been so long since Glenwood had been to the Sweet 16, since the boys won league. They’ve accomplished so much.”

A “soccer angel” guided Coal Ridge High School’s girls soccer team to great heights in the spring of 2009.

With a fallen teammate in their thoughts and prayers at all times, the Titans submitted their most successful season to date, going 15-1-1 and landing their first-ever 3A Western Slope League title.

Emily Johnson, who was killed in an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) accident in November of 2008, was at the forefront of players’ minds all season long.

Emily had been a big part of the team before her passing.

And they kept her a big part of the team after her passing.

“She’s with us every second – at practice, at school, at games,” said junior Chelsie Ryan after an early-season win over Basalt. “She’s with us 24-7.”

Amber Sutherland led Glenwood Springs High School’s volleyball program to many a victory as a player.

In the fall of 2009, the Demon alum did the same as the program’s head coach. After a collegiate playing career at the University of Colorado, the 2004 Glenwood grad returned home to coach the Demons to a 14-8 record.

Players responded well to their new coach, piecing together a turnaround season under her watch. Sutherland took over a team that struggled to a 5-16 record the previous fall.

“To have someone you looked up to all through middle school come be your coach, who’s coming right out of college and knowing all the drills to do and the level of intensity you need, that gives us a big step over a bunch of other schools,” one of Sutherland’s players, senior Leah Mansfield, said at a preseason practice.

Sutherland’s playing days might not be completely over. She’s headed to Europe to pursue a professional career later this month.

Local cycling enthusiasts were treated to quite the surprise in June when a pair of iconic figures crashed a local time trial.

Seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong and Astana teammate Levi Leipheimer made a surprise appearance at the Leg Breaker Time Trial, the first race in a three-phase, weekend cycling event known as the Western Slope Omnium.

The American cycling greats used the Carbondale race as a chance to train and test equipment in advance of the July Tour de France.

Omnium co-promoter Mitch Hyra fielded a call from Armstrong’s publicist the day before the race and gladly input the stars’ names into the start list, albeit inconspicuously. With hopes of heading off a media and fan frenzy, Hyra did his best to keep everything under wraps ahead of the time trial.

Only a Twitter entry by Armstrong in the hours before the race alerted the masses to the cameo showing.

“My dad handed me the start list for the pros and I saw Levi Leipheimer and Lance Armstrong,” said 12-year-old Max Sommers, who relished the opportunity to see his cycling idols in person. “I was like, ‘Shut up!’ He was like, ‘No, they’re actually coming for the time trial.'”

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