When high school student athletes compete, they do so with the names of their school or town prominently displayed across their jerseys, helmets or hats. As long as those athletes and teams are participating in formal competition, the towns and institutions they represent are on center stage before the public eye.
In many cases, the only knowledge or lasting impressions we have of distant towns or communities is what we know from having seen their high school sports teams compete. And, as many of you know, one can tell quite a bit about a community based on such events.
How well did the team compete? How hard did the team compete? How did the team react to winning, or losing? How large was their crowd? Was the crowd engaged in a positive way?
The reverse is also true, especially for student athletes from rural settings such as Bailey. It is completely conceivable that residents of Peyton, Bennett, or Wiggins might not have ever visited Bailey. Many people from those communities might not even know exactly where Bailey is located.
The only exposure to Bailey, or Platte Canyon, that they might ever experience could come from seeing our Huskies or Lady Huskies participating in a league, regional or state sporting event.
That’s quite a burden to carry for 14-18-year-olds, but in the case of Platte Canyon High School fall sports teams and athletes, Platte Canyon communities were represented in a way that should make us all proud.
Against that backdrop, let’s reflect on PCHS fall sports, and the positive impressions left in the wake of their respective seasons.
Despite the Lady Huskies posting their highest finish in conference play in more than a decade, they just missed an invitation to the regional round of the state playoffs by the slimmest of margins.
Some of the qualifying teams should probably be thankful for that, as head coach Johnna Bambrey had her team hitting on all cylinders at season’s end.
The team rolled through the first round of league playoffs and then gave Bennett an epic, five-game match in Bennett before finally falling in the latter stages of the conference tournament.
In addition to having a deep, talented roster, the Lady Huskies developed confidence as the season went along and were a formidable match for any class 2A volleyball team by mid-October. Most matches were victories throughout conference play, and the vast majority of those wins were blowouts in which opponents were unable to win a single game in a best-of-five-format.
Even more compelling was the attitude with which the Lady Huskies played. The team played well, but perhaps more importantly, it played hard, and together. Each player knew her role, and each utilized her talents toward the best interest of the team.
When all of the pieces came together toward the end of the season, and the team began performing with the consistency that Bambrey had been hoping for, the Lady Huskies were a pleasure to watch.
The assembly of talent didn’t hurt, either, as Georgia Schmidt, Charlize Renfro, and Alyssa Risenhoover were selected by the Frontier League coaches to play in the conference All Star game. Chloe Petitpas and Blanca Garcia were selected as alternates. The All-Star game took place Nov. 12 at The Academy High School.
Next year should produce more of the same, as Bambrey will have the vast majority of her team returning.
In a mid-August interview, first-year head coach Lance Gunkel mused over the upcoming schedule. When asked about the team’s first four non-conference games, which all featured exceptionally high-powered opponents, Gunkel paused.
“Well, I don’t think we would be considered favorites in any of those games,” Gunkel said.
There were no upsets in any of those games, forcing the Huskies to hit the road against rival Clear Creek for their first conference game with no victories to their credit. Clear Creek, meanwhile, came into the contest brimming with confidence before a packed house on homecoming night.
“Their best running back isn’t even playing tonight,” remarked a Clear Creak fan before the game.
That was true, as Brandon Patterson was sitting out with an injury after accounting for about 70 percent of the Huskies’ offense over the previous four weeks. In fact, as the pre-game National Anthem blared in a sea of Golddigger gold, it was difficult to imagine how the Huskies were going to erase the demons of the first four weeks to emerge victorious – especially in that environment.
Two and a half hours later, after the Huskies had compiled 400 yards of rushing offense and rolled up almost 40 points, the relief on the faces of players and coaches alike was almost as memorable as the game itself.
That relief, at some point, transformed into confidence, as the Huskies cruised to convincing victories over Jefferson and Sheridan over the next two weeks.
During that time, sophomore quarterback Allen Hardey became more comfortable running the offense. Against Clear Creek, he ran the ball on five consecutive plays.
On each carry, all of which were simply quarterback sneaks, behind a dominant offensive front, Hardey seemed to become more determined. After several plays where Hardey dragged defenders for huge chunks of extra yardage, Hardey again took the ball into the teeth of the Clear Creek defense.
Hardey could not be seen from my vantage point, as he maintained his footing while the hordes of defenders around him clung to what ever they could grab. Remarkably, and inexplicably, Hardey somehow emerged from beneath the moving scrum and bolted into the end zone for a fourth-quarter touchdown – his third of the night.
Matthew Bracknell, a junior with no previous varsity football experience, also turned in a 100-plus rushing performance against Clear Creek, much to the delight of teammates and Huskies fans.
Patterson returned from injury and picked up where he left off. He finished the season with almost 1,000 yards rushing. His determined running style was worth the price of admission, and to see the senior run through and around opposing defenders was enough to leave a lasting impression on any true sports fan.
Whether distant Coloradans know the location of PCHS or not, they have at least heard of the Huskies if they have ever attended a regional or state cross-country meet. Every year, it seems, head coach Bill Stahl has his teams in the hunt amongst the state’s best.
Last year, the PCHS girls’ team finished second in the state, and this year a respectable fifth. The key to such lofty finishes is having not just a good runner, but a team full of good runners.
And while a strong team concept has been the basis of the Lady Huskies’ recent success, it has been the running exploits of junior Emma Dikken that has anchored the effort. Dikken has finished among the top 10 at state for the last two years among Class 2A girls.
Dikken finished ninth at the state meet Oct. 26 in Colorado Springs. She ran with the lead pack most of the way, not slipping from contention until the race’s latter stages. As she entered the home stretch, she provided a glimpse of what has made her so successful. With long, graceful strides, Dikken strode into the arena area and picked up speed seemingly all the way through the finish.
After the race Dikken recounted her race. She was obviously not particularly pleased with her finish, and wanted to contend for the top spot this season. She discussed the race with a smile in her post-race interview, and made no excuses.
Not until she was asked about nagging ankle injuries did she mention that she was likely not at her best.
“It was a rough season with ankle injuries that I kept aggravating, but overall I am happy with the way things went,” Dikken said. “Next year I will be more careful, and can hopefully stay healthy throughout the season.”
Dikken had both ankles heavily wrapped for the grueling event, and one can only imagine what her home stretch burst would have looked like – or where she would have finished – had she been healthy. A good bet is that we will find out next year at the state meet.
Remarkably, Dikken is a sprinter for the spring track team and says longer distances are a real challenge for her. That would be interesting news to the 60 or so runners who finished well behind her in Colorado Springs.
The performance turned in by Tim Long at the state meet was no less impressive. Last season, as a junior, Tim Long barely qualified for the state cross-country meet and finished 41st overall.
This season, after a solid year of goal-setting, improving, and resetting goals, Long finished eighth. After being awarded a pin for his top 10 finish, Long immediately attached it to his jersey just over the Platte Canyon insignia.
Heading back from the podium to a large contingent of family and teammates, his smile, too, provided a memorable moment in PCHS fall sports.
Over the years PCHS head softball coach Robert Ikola has developed the unique skill of scoring his team’s games while coaching. Despite giving hitters signals and directing base runners from the third-base coaches’ box, Ikola still manages to chart every pertinent statistic from a given contest.
That task, while still difficult, must have felt somewhat easier this season because many of those stats reflected positive steps forward for his program.
Despite a smaller roster that lacked the personnel depth of most opponents, Ikola got a tremendous effort from the players he had. As a team, the Lady Huskies batted .309 with an on-base percentage of .556.
Moreover, the Lady Huskies hammered out twice as many wins in 2019 as they did in 2018, and enjoyed their most successful season since 2010.
Leading the way for the Lady Huskies this season was 2018 Honorable Mention All-State selection Jadin DiMeo. DiMeo’s numbers read like something out of a novel, as she registered a season batting average of .610 with an on-base percentage of .667.
In 41 at-bats, DiMeo garnered 25 hits and 29 runs batted in. On the mound, DiMeo pitched 51 innings with 49 strikeouts. All six of the Lady Huskies’ victories came with DiMeo on the mound. DiMeo struck out 10 hitters in one contest, resulting in her team’s 18-11 victory over Jefferson.
Heidi Sussenbach joined the hit parade with a season average of .588 and an on-base percentage of .741. Seviah Egbert, just a sophomore, batted .368 with an on-base percentage of .510.
DiMeo, Sussenbach and Egbert accounted for an astounding 64 of the team’s 96 runs batted in.