Checking in with Summit High School basketball, wrestling, swimming and hockey
January 15, 2016
Time flies this time of year.
Back in early December, the winter preps season got underway with three weeks of non-conference games and Front Range tournaments. The Summit High School teams — boy's and girls basketball, girl's swimming and diving, wrestling and boy's hockey — spent plenty of time traveling across the state before taking a long, awkward break smack in the middle of their seasons. That's the nature of the beast during the holidays, and you'd better believe players on every team were happy to take a break when the snow fell. They're mountain kids, after all, and it was time to ski.
But now it's time to step back onto the hardwood. All preps sports are now at the midpoint of the season, which means an end to non-conference matches (aka live-action practice) and the beginning of conference play. Performing well against inter-league foes means one thing: A shot at the post-season and all the glory it brings.
Both Tigers basketball teams play in the familiar 4A Western Slope (the same as fall sports like football and soccer) against six foes: Eagle Valley, Battle Mountain, Rifle, Palisade, Steamboat Springs and Delta. Thanks to smaller teams in ski country, the wrestling team and swim team face a mish-mash of opponents from across the Central Rockies (Aspen, Basalt) and Western Slope (Grand Junction) to qualify for regional tournaments. The hockey team travels even farther on a regular basis, with the majority of matches against Front Range teams like Mullen, Regis Jesuit, Ralston Valley and Dakota Ridge. The ice season ends with a statewide tourney.
By now, the Tigers must maintain winning records before post-season tournaments begin in early February. Here's what coaches are doing to make sure their teams make it to the big show.
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Like running and swimming, wrestling has always been more of an individual sport than a tried-and-true team sport. That's why head coach Peter Baker isn't really worried about a small team this year. He's working with about six wrestlers right now, each in different weight classes spanning from 106 pounds to heavyweight (285-plus pounds). That's the entire gamut for Colorado high school wrestling, which puts the Tigers in a promising position for the state tournament Feb. 18-20 at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
"We're small on numbers, but we're doing really good," said Baker, a Longmont native who's been coaching at Summit for six seasons. He's working with two promising senior captains, Will "The Big Thrill" Flannagan and Dean Vangnes, and expects both to make the cut for state. Flannagan is the team's heavyweight and vocal leader, but he's also one hell of an opponent. He pinned the heavyweight from Hotchkiss earlier this season, and that team is ranked No. 5 in the state for 2A schools.
"Will has a huge drive and willingness to work," Baker said. "Dean is a great kid to coach because he's such a hard worker, just like everyone on the team, but those two kids put in the extra work. You like to see that from your leaders, from your captain."
The only time a small team doesn't come in handy: Practice. Baker admits it's tough to motivate the crew for conditioning and cardio, and he often gets on the mat with other coaches to make up for disparity in weight classes.
The team next travels to Evergreen this weekend for the Evergreen invite. The southwest regional tournament is Feb. 12-13 at Platte Valley. Every season Baker's goal is to take at least four athletes to state, and in his career he's coached two state finalists.
Girl's swimming and diving
Jenny Wischmeyer might just be the longest-tenured head coach at Summit right now. For the past 15 seasons, the former collegiate freestyle and breaststroke specialist has led the Lady Tigers (and now defunct Gentlemen Tigers) swim teams. Swimming isn't quite a hot commodity in the Rockies, but the competition is still fierce, especially when the team travels across the state for meets and invites.
Right before the break, this season's crew of 28 swimmers and seven divers went to the Colorado School of Mines for the Mountain Vista Invite, a massive invitational with 500-plus swimmers. It's the closest the team will get to state before actually making it, and, even though it doesn't look like any of her swimmers will make the big meet, the coach is happy with the season so far.
"We don't have a chance to swim at a lot of big meets like that, so the experience was invaluable for the girls," she said of the pre-holiday meet. "My overall goal for caching is to help these girls improve times and feel successful during the season."
Her swimmers are well on their way. Senior captain Maddy O'Malley has consistently dropped time in her main event, backstroke, and she's part of a promising medley relay team. The 200-yard freestyle relay team is also a force, with team leader (and sprint monster) Emily Sandberg acting as anchor for Katerina Lee, Abbey Lau and an interchangeable fourth swimmer.
The biggest home meet of the season comes Jan. 23, when the team hosts a roundup of up to a dozen other teams for the Lady Tiger Invite. The southwest conference meet is Feb. 5-6 at Colorado Mesa University, and, if history repeats, the Tigers should do well: Last season, Wischmeyer's team had personal bests in more than 90 percent of the races. No one qualified for state.
"We're never very high in the standings," she admits. "Swimming is a sport where it's so individual that I want to focus on personal improvement. It's a mix there."
The Tigers girl's hoops team has a tough season ahead of them. After entering the holiday break above .500 — the first time in recent memory — the girls had a heartbreaker 48-42 loss to Eagle Valley (8-3 overall) on Jan. 8 and another to Battle Mountain (4-5 overall) Jan. 12. The team dropped below .500 and now sits at 4-5 overall and 0-3 in the 4A Slope.
And the hardest games are yet to come. The Tigers already suffered a 52-28 rout at Rifle (7-2 overall), which is the league's best team next to Palisade (7-2 overall). That matchup comes Jan. 16 away and again Feb. 6 at home, and head coach Colton St. Peter knows his team has plenty to work on until then.
"The big thing will be consistency down the stretch in the last half of the season," St. Peter said. "It feels like Palisade could run away with the conference, but, right now, there are a lot of teams beating each other."
The coach is relying on his senior captains, Megan McDonnell and Jess Horii, to lead the charge. The former is far and away the team superstar, leading in points, steals, assists and rebounds at the halfway mark. The latter is the defensive backbone, while underclassman Kate Tomlinson has the highest shooting percentage for the Tigers. Everyone is doing their part, freshman and senior alike, and it's now just a matter of finding that consistency.
"They played really well early on and showed they could stick with anyone in the league," St. Peter said. "Now it's just about fine-tweaking it to help them really find the success."
Much like the girls, the boy's basketball team faces an uphill battle in the last half of the season. Things started on a high note with a win against Eagle Valley (3-8 overall) at home on Jan. 8, then quickly dipped after a home loss to Battle Mountain (5-5 overall) and former head coach Phil Tronsrue on Jan. 12. The team is now 1-8 overall and 1-2 in the 4A Slope.
And that means there's still a chance for the playoffs. First-year head coach Paul Koslovsky hopes his team can rebound (pun entirely intended) after poor early-season tournaments and the brutal home rivalry loss. The only issues: Pace of play. His team always manages to have at least two good quarters, but they always come before or after at least one quarter with single-digit scoring.
"We can put up a lot more," he said after a poor first half to the Eagle Valley win. "We shouldn't only be putting up six or eight points in the first half."
He is relying on a small corps of seniors and veteran juniors to get back above .500, including points leader Jesus Moya and three-point threat Dmitri Preciado. Thing is, he knows these guys can make shots: Junior forward Alex O'Neal was shooting nearly 100 percent at practice, and in games he can shows moments of brilliance. It's now just a matter of bottling it in time for the post-season.
The Tigers next face Delta (5-5 overall) at home today, followed by Palisade (2-7 overall) away on Saturday. The district tourney is open to five 4A Slope teams and held Feb. 18-20 at Colorado Mesa University.
This wasn't the start the Tigers hockey team wanted. On Jan. 8, the young ice team finally got a tie — not a win, a tie — against the Standley Lake Gators. That put the team at 0-5-1 on the season and finally earned points for league standings.
That said, the team still has only played seven of 19 total games, and at this point the post-season is open to anyone. The Tigers started the season lopsided, with a mix of close loses to Cherry Creek and Columbine and two shutouts against Steamboat Springs and Monarch. That Monarch match was a brutal start to the season: 13-0 on Dec. 4, easily one of the Summit team's worst losses in several seasons.
The Tigers next game is an away match against Cheyenne Mountain this Saturday, followed on Jan. 18 at home against Regis Jesuit. The state quarterfinals begin Feb. 26-27, and the championship is March 5.
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