Saturday morning dawned with a fresh, wet blanket of snow covering the State of Colorado -- and storm clouds still hanging heavy across the Front Range. Friday evening, I could sense big challenges laying ahead when the coach of the Colorado Rocky Mountain School in Carbondale texted me at dinner time: “Epic drive. 6 hours so far and we’re only in Georgetown!”
But the storm dampened few spirits once over 300 climbers, coaches and families gathered for the American Scholastic Climbing League (ASCL) State Finals at Ubergrippen in Stapleton, CO.
FVS climbers rose to the occasion, many turning in their best performances of the season. Given the stress of the big comp, they not only needed grit but also plenty of chalk to give them grip on this cold and snowy day.
Firstly, to the amazing results:
In the morning “wave,” the JV Boys finished in first, led by Reilly Kaczmarek '21, who also placed first individually!! A REPEAT OF LAST SEASON, BOTH AS A TEAM AND INDIVIDUALLY!
Also in the morning wave, the JV Girls placed third, with Layla Esrey '21 in fourth.
In the noon wave, the Varsity Girls finished a strong fourth.
In the evening wave, the Varsity Boys WON A SECOND STRAIGHT STATE TITLE, led by Savian Johnson-Czerny '20 in third and Eli Fricke '19 in fifth!
Secondly, a quick review of how ASCL State Finals worked. To attend, every climber must be ranked in the top 16 climbers regionally for varsity and the top 12 for JV. A few invited climbers from the SoCo Region could not attend, which meant that we got to go a bit deeper into the ranks, with a couple of FVS climbers benefiting from this.
Ubergrippen set 20 boulder problems and 20 roped routes with the lowest starting at a much higher level than regional competitions -- which surprised many climbers from across the state! Each rope-climb/boulder problem was worth the number on the route multiplied by 100. A climber who completed route nine, for example, earned 900 points. If he/she completed it on the first try, the climber is awarded bonus points.
To post a score, each competitor had to complete, without falling, two roped routes and two boulder problems, plus a fifth of either discipline.
The team score is the sum of the scores of the top three climbers -- as opposed to the sum of the places in which the athletes finished, which is how a cross-country meet would be scored.
Now to the action!
The JV climbers all went in a morning wave from about 8-11 a.m. Which meant the gym was crowded, and there was little time for getting back on a roped route if a climber fell. The JV Boys quickly built an insurmountable lead thanks to Reilly who scored points for the team by sending boulders 12 and 14, and flashing climbs 14 and 15, which many varsity climbers struggled to do! Ezra Potts '21 had to reach down deep after a couple early disappointments on routes 9 and 10. Later in the competition, he went back to lead 9 and, just as time ran out, finished 10! He placed a very strong 8th. Newcomer Makar Shpilenok '22 did really well and placed 16th. Together the three of them compiled 13,470 points, leaving Western-Slope rivals Montrose and CRMS behind by almost 2,000 points! Reilly, who has made steady improvement all season, would have placed 22nd in the varsity field ahead of 40 others--and many of his varsity teammates!
Meanwhile the JV Girls outperformed in a strong field. (SoCo is the only region to have a separate JV division. This year, the rest of the league invited the top 16 girls in each region to compete in varsity, and the next 12 in JV. Consequently, our girls were up against the “Varsity B” from across the state! Thank goodness their coaches did not make a big point of this ahead of time!) Layla led the way, finishing fourth! Seeing her determination on boulder 5 brought tears to her aunt’s eyes when she finally sent it after multiple tries! Her coaches were no less impressed when she finished route 8 on her second try! She had the grit--and chalk--to get the job done for her school and team as a newcomer this season! Not far behind in 8th was veteran Maddie Dunn '21, who has been a steady performer all season--and at state finals, when it really counted! Sera Massetti '21, another newcomer, finished in a four-way tie for 15th, and Sophie Knuettel '20, also a newcomer, was right behind this group in 19th. Look for more from these four next season!
A side note on JV: SoCo has a different philosophy than the rest of the state. We run a separate JV division because we believe that the less experienced climbers should have a chance for their moment in the sun. Like Reilly and the JV Boys, they should have the opportunity to top the podium, both as individuals and as teams, rather than be buried deep in the field. If you see a photo of the team with their trophy, you will undoubtedly agree! However, as JV climbers up their game, they chafe at being held back in JV. But regional coaches counter with the argument that winning at JV will teach them to win at varsity! Whether or not our stance holds up in the face of a new and stronger statewide league is far from certain at this writing.
Some FVS highlights from the Varsity Girls’ wave: Aspen Kimlicko '20 led the way in 14th, flashing boulder 9 and working very hard to send boulder 11, which she did after multiple tries! She is living proof that a strong boulderer can earn big points and do well. Ingrid Ellis '19 was right behind her in 15th, having flashed routes 15 and then 12. Her poise and focus on small jibs and crimpers was amazing to watch
To repeat a state championship as a Colorado climbing team is quite a feat; to do it with mostly new personnel is astounding! Working under coach Marcus Herrera since last August, Savian and Eli, as mentioned earlier, finished third and fifth, respectively. Last season, both suffered from injuries. Eli couldn’t even compete in the second half of the 2017-2018 season because of a broken wrist. It was thus a beautiful thing to witness both of them at full strength! In fact, Savian was the top “amateur” at the competition! The cheer that went up when he almost flashed 19 on lead was deafening! (The top two boys made it to USA-Climbing bouldering nationals at the beginning of the month! They climb for elite gym teams, with professional coaches, rather than teacher-coaches, which puts them in a whole other league from those who fully immerse themselves in the various programs at their high schools. Semi-pro, if you ask me.) Veteran Sam Volk (‘19) anchored this very strong team, finishing a strong 15th. This is his third varsity state final; the second in which he contributed significantly to the team score! Steady and focused, he did not let falls distract him from building a solid score on boulders (12, 13, and 14) and ropes (14 and 15). We call that “stacked!”
Many thank yous are in order!
First, to coaches for many long hours in gyms. When you get a chance, please thank Marcus Herrera (who worked hard with the Varsity Boys and Girls from August until now), Stephanie Kimlicko (who has dedicated herself to the team since 2014), Josh Alford (who had an awesome first season and is our future), and Lydia Herndon (who jumped in after the start of the season to share her expertise).
Second, to seniors who have led the way this season at states and in seasons past. Please give a shout-out to Ingrid Ellis, Eli Fricke, Fabian Guerrero, David Luo, Adeline Thames, and Sam Volk. We will miss you! Good luck in the wider world of climbing!
Third, to parents, families and friends, who supported us at states and all season long! Thank you so much! We can feel the warmth of your love!
Looking ahead, the future looks bright. Strong JV climbers will replenish the ranks of the varsity teams next season. Moreover, there is now a cohort of eager and hard-working girls who will undoubtedly attract other female athletes to the program for years to come!
PHOTOS BY REILLY K. '20