Sports fans across La Plata County will remember the past decade for decades to come. They will remember a national champion soccer team at Fort Lewis College, numerous conference championship Skyhawks teams and big regional basketball tournament victories. They will remember a handful of state championships at the high school level. They will recall a decade of dominance in mountain biking and an era that developed the next generation of great American cyclists.
But, on New Year’s Day, it’s time to look forward at what’s to come while and using the memories of days gone by to fuel greater goals. I won’t pretend to predict the future, but here’s a look at what I am looking forward to in 2020.
It’s an exciting time to be a basketball fan. Two great Fort Lewis College teams will ring in the New Year with highly-anticipated games Jan. 3 at home against mighty Metro State University-Denver. The FLC men and women are a combined 17-4 going into 2020, and every single game will be pivotal as they jockey for seeding in the hotly-contested eight-team field for the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference tournament.
The teams at Ignacio High School will also look to run in 2020 with hopes of deep postseason pushes. The fourth-ranked Ignacio boys are out to a 4-0 start and 1-0 mark in league play. A big week looms this month with a Jan. 17 game against Dolores followed by a Jan. 21 showdown with Mancos. Meanwhile, the ninth-ranked Ignacio girls have already been battled tested against quality teams and stand 2-3 overall. Though the Bobcats won’t be tested much in league, they’ll get another chance at a big game Feb. 21 at home against Pagosa Springs before the district and regional tournaments.
All three area high schools have boys who will look to qualify for the state tournament, led by Bayfield’s John Foutz and a deeper and more experienced Durango High squad.
With spring comes the start of a new cycling season. World Tour pro road cyclists Sepp Kuss and Quinn Simmons will be hard at work in Europe, and Simmons will target a strong result at Paris-Roubaix. The mountain bike schedule will begin in earnest with the typical stops in California and the Whiskey Off-Road and Grand Junction Off-Road. This year, there is an added focus on World Cup racing and all International Cycling Union points races, as Summer 2020 will bring the Tokyo Olympics. More on that later.
Spring also gives local track and field stars a chance to shine. The distance runners of Durango High will once again be among the best in the state, and the chance to watch Madeleine Burns complete her running career at DHS will be worth following.
Then comes the 49th Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, back to a three-day race format with a thrilling fat-tire mountain bike criterium race added to the Friday night of Memorial Day weekend racing. Though it’s yet unclear which pros will be able to work the IHBC into their schedule, the road race always produces talented and worthy winners who make the race special.
The mountain bike national championships will be pivotal in helping USA Cycling pick between Durango’s Christopher Blevins and Utah’s Keegan Swenson for the recipient of the one Olympic spot for the U.S. men at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. If Blevins is selected, he might not be the only Durangoan to compete in Japan during the Games scheduled for July 24 through Aug. 9. Seamus Millett will also look to qualify in the modern pentathlon, Laura Thweatt will compete in the Olympic trials in the women’s marathon run, Zachary Lokken will attempt to paddle to qualification in canoe slalom, and Simmons hopes to be selected for road cycling.
Meanwhile, Kuss is slated to start his first career Tour de France that will run June. 27 through July 19. With a climbing-heavy route, he will likely have one or two chances to ride for a stage win while trying to help Jumbo-Visma teammate Primoz Roglic wear the yellow jersey on the Avenue des Champs-Elysées.
A highly anticipated Hardrock Hundred Endurance run is scheduled for July 17 with a loaded field of men and women who will look to conquer 100.5 miles with 66,050 feet of elevation change through the San Juan Mountains. After the race was canceled in 2019 because of the lasting damage from a winter full of snow and avalanches, race organizers will hope for good conditions and a chance to get runners back on the course in 2020.
With fall comes the return of school sports and football. The Durango High School football team will have a golden chance at a semifinal or championship game appearance in the senior season of star quarterback Jordan Woolverton, who will be surrounded by a talented supporting cast and a strong offensive line.
Fall also will give Durango another chance to show off its mountain bike culture, as the Colorado Cycling League is expected to return for the state championship race at Durango Mesa for a third consecutive year. Fort Lewis College is also ready in 2020, after having its host rights taken away in 2019, to host the USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships on Oct. 16-18 at Purgatory Resort.
Building into the following winter, the FLC men’s basketball team will return all but one player from this year’s squad and will look to make a run at its first-ever Elite 8 appearance with a loaded squad that head coach Bob Pietrack and associate head coach Daniel Steffensen have massive hopes for going into the 2020-21 season.
Durango will also prepare to host the shenanigans that is the single-speed cyclocross world championships, as the town won the hosting rights thanks to the many talents of bike ace Dylan Stucki.
Surely, there will be plenty of more amazing feats and newsworthy accomplishments from area athletes in the coming year. The great thing about Southwest Colorado is that more elite athletes seem to move here every year along with a generation of upcoming stars who have been inspired by those who have shined before them.
It’s going to be another fun and wild ride across a wide variety of sports here in 2020. More memories are sure to be made. What makes this job so great is there’s never a shortage of inspiring stories to tell.
John Livingston is the regional sports editor of The Durango Herald. He can be reached at 375-4514 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @jlivi2.