Summit County high school preps report | SummitDaily.com

Summit County high school preps report

Interviewed by
Phil Lindeman
plindeman@summitdaily.com

Editor's note: This is Part One of a three-part series on 2016-17 winter sports athletes. Read on for Part Two with swimmers and divers, and Part Three with boy’s and girl’s basketball.

The Tigers are bringing the heat this January.

Halfway through the winter preps season, the latest batch of Summit High all-stars is already making a claim for state titles come championship season in February. The Tigers Nordic ski team is dominating in typical fashion, led by a strong group of seniors and underclassman, while the girl's swim team is enjoying one of its best seasons in 15 years. The talented wrestling team might be small at less than 10 members, but its lead by a duo of veterans with stellar chances of earning an invite to the Pepsi Center for the state meet.

Between practices and meets — some held three to four hours away from Summit County — the Summit Daily sports desk caught up with four of Summit High's most promising Nordic skiers, swimmers and wrestlers for the first part of our mid-winter athlete spotlight. Keep an eye on these athletes — they're going places.

Karina Gonzalez | Tigers Nordic ski team

Karina Gonzalez has come a long way in two years. Now a senior, the 18-year-old joined the Summit High Nordic ski team her junior year as a brand-new, never-before skier. She admits it took her a few weeks to get a feel for the sport — "At first, I noticed it would take a lot of time to learn all about the different Nordic skills and techniques, and I wasn't so interested," she says — but she never quit. Today, she's one of the team's senior leaders and has "improved immensely" in a single season, head coach Jonathan Mocatta says. Her strongest talent: an incredibly love for the sport.

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First Nordic memory: The first time I went Nordic skiing it was awesome. Even though I fell so many times, it was a great way to start something new. It was my first time ever skiing and it's considered my best first experience ever. At first, I noticed it would take a lot of time to learn all about the different Nordic skills and techniques, and I wasn't so interested. But, after all, I knew that it was a very fun sport and that with good practice and effort I would become a great skier.

My Nordic skiing highlight: It gets me into a good mood! Even though it's a hard workout, it's a great way to let your stress out.

My favorite memory from the team: The time when I finished my first race. My coach had asked me to do half of the racecourse, just to get a sneak peek to what a race was like. For some reason I was very into doing the race (and) I decided to ski all 5K. I was the last one to finish, yet I was very proud of myself.

If I weren't Nordic skiing…: I would be on the swim team or just no sport at all. I would be involved in the swim team because that's my second-favorite sport to do, but because skiing is my No. 1 favorite I decided to involve in that sport.

Pre-race meal: Hot chocolate with some protein bars. These foods help me get energized and ready.

Post-win celebration: Drinking some hot chocolate and eating some very good food. There is nothing better for me than good tacos.

Pump-up music: Pop or Latin music.

My pre-race ritual: We don't have lucky clothing or rituals, yet we all wish each other luck and cheer for each other. Our goal is to finish successfully with a big smile!

Biggest rival on the Nordic track: All those other school teams who are very good and competitive.

Morgan Payne | Tigers swimming

Last season, senior Morgan Payne donned a cap and goggles for her first-ever swim practice. The lifelong gymnast wasn't sure what to expect — she moved as a junior from Michigan to Colorado, where the Summit High gymnastics team is long gone — and dove headfirst into "the hardest, best, yet craziest workout I have ever endured." She stuck with it, and this season the 17-year-old freestyle specialist returned for a final hurrah as one of several senior captains.

First swim team memory: The first time I showed up to swim practice last year I was pretty taken away by it. I will never forget that practice, as it was certainly the hardest, best, yet craziest workout I have ever endured. I never realized how tough the sport really was until I put on that cap and goggles and tried for myself. It took a while to warm up to the new environment, but from my gymnastics background of being strong I seemed to adapt well. I think what definitely keeps me coming back is the workout I am able to get from swimming.

My swim team highlight: The first time my coach had me swim the 100 butterfly. This is a tough race, as not many swimmers have the endurance to swim 100 whole yards of butterfly. I remember thinking I was going to drown the entire time, but at the end I never felt more accomplished.

My favorite memory from practice: From this year as captain, because the entire team is one big, happy family. I love joking around, pushing each other in the pool, and having funny conversations about each other´s days while kicking.

If I weren't swimming…: If my body would still allow it I would be in gymnastics. I used to be extremely competitive in my younger days; however, injuries and busy schedules kept me from continuing.

Pre-meet meal: My meals vary daily, but before swimming I enjoy a salmon teriyaki bowl from Whole Foods. Because swimming burns so many calories, I usually end up eating a lot of carbs on a daily basis.

Post-win celebration: To just embrace the other girls on my team. We lift each other up so much, and after anyone has a good event we always give lots of wet hugs and encouragement.

Pump-up music: I like almost all genres of music, but to pump myself up I enjoy listening to lots of Future, DJ Snake and Flume.

My pre-meet ritual: I don´t really have any pre-meet rituals, other than praying that I will do my best and not drown (laughs).

Biggest rivals in the pool: Probably Madi Hirsh and Jenna Piehl, two incredible girls on the team. It´s a playful rivalry, as we are similar in speed and swim in the same lane — I always try to meet or beat their times. They are great friends and like sisters to me, always lifting up and encouraging me.

Dean Vangsnes | Tigers wrestling

As the lone senior on the Tigers wrestling team, Dean Vangsnes is part captain, part coach and part inspirational leader. The 18-year-old is quiet and collected on the mat, and instead lets his wrestling talk for him: With six of 12 meets remaining, the 182 pounder is 19-4, including a loss to the No. 4-ranked Colorado wrestler in his weight class at a Jan. 7 meet in Gypsum.

"As long as our kids are wrestling to their caliber, they can make it to the state meet," head coach Pete Baker says. "That's the whole goal of our sport: to reach that state level."

Vangsnes has already punched his ticket. After six seasons of wrestling and two seasons of watching state from the outside, he's already earned an invite to the 4A championship meet, held Feb. 16-18 in Denver.

First wrestling memory: The first time that I was introduced to collegiate wrestling was in the winter of my sixth grade year. I loved the challenge of competing against somebody else, one-versus-one, and not relying on teammates to complete a job that would determine our success, knowing that every win and loss I get is directly related to my effort.

My wrestling highlight: Being able to watch myself progress and consistently improve.

My favorite memory off the mat: Spectating the state tournament the last two years. I will soon have a new favorite memory, when I participate in the state tournament this February.

If I weren't wrestling…: I would probably do a lot more ice fishing and snowboarding.

Pre-meet meal: In past years my "favorite" meal before a tournament would be some ice cubes so I wouldn't get too dried out, but still be able to make weight.

Post-win celebration: I look back on my performance to try and better prepare myself for the next.

Pump-up music: I listen to hard rock mainly. Thanks to my coach's influence, I now like a lot of punk rock during our practices.

My pre-meet ritual: I don´t practice any rituals or wear lucky clothing.

Biggest rival on the mat: Because of how many times I wrestle and travel in a season, rivals are not too common.

Alex Barela | Tigers wrestling

Sophomore Alex Barela might just be one of the best athletes at Summit High School — and few people know it. The 15-year-old has been wrestling for a decade and boasts the high school record to prove it. After six meets, he's 19-4 in the 106-pound division and will head to Denver this season for his first-ever trip to state.

First wrestling memory: When I first started wrestling, I noticed it was something I wanted to keep doing in the future. Being competitive is what brought me back to the sport.

My wrestling highlight: Progressing through the season (and) seeing how far I can push myself every day.

My favorite memory off the mat: Seeing everyone progress. No one stays the same (and) we all improve.

If I weren't wrestling…: I would probably be waiting for track to start this season.

Pre-meet meal: Probably an energy bar.

Post-win celebration: Going and eating with my family is probably the best way to celebrate a big win.

Pump-up music: We usually listen to rock 'n' roll during practice time.

My pre-meet ritual: I don't really have any pregame rituals.

Biggest rival on the mat: I don't have really any rivals. Everyone is good competition.