From championships to near-winless seasons: Summit County’s top five sports stories of 2018 |

From championships to near-winless seasons: Summit County’s top five sports stories of 2018

Sarah Hendrickson lifts her skis into the air as she celebrates placing first among the women ski jumpers at the U.S. Olympic Team Ski Jumping Trials at the Utah Olympic Park on Dec. 31, 2017. Her finish clinched her spot with the U.S. national team for the Pyeongchang, South Korea, Winter Games in February – her second Olympic Games. (Tanzi Propst/Park Record)

Another year passed, another carousel of sports action in Park City (and South Korea) has come and gone. 2018’s stories included battles both for places in the Olympics and for the dubious honor of “not last,” in local competitions, as well as individual endeavors that tested the limits of human willpower. Here are the top five sports stories from 2018.

5. Prep sports realignment

In December, Park City High School announced it would be stepping up in the Utah high school sports world once again. Its teams had already moved to Class 4A in 2017, but found itself on the bubble for the next Utah High School Activities Association realignment, meaning they were one of the most populous schools in the division. So the school sought to move up in December, and was granted that request for all sports except football.

While Park City athletic director Jamie Sheetz was ultimately unhappy with the process for its seemingly arbitrary nature, arguing that PCHS’s final placement was illogical and was only chosen because of another school’s dissatisfaction, he said the school’s placement in Region 5 will be a good fit for PCHS athletics.

Sheetz said earlier discussions with students and coaches indicated that they are excited to play against the bigger 5A schools in 2019 and 2020. Region 5, while largely composed of schools in the Weber and Davis county metropolitan area, will require less travel overall than Class 4A’s Region 11, where the school was before the realignment.

Coincidentally, this year, Park City High School started to prepare younger athletes for competition by building local development programs in football and basketball. The basketball program was spearheaded by Mike Doleac, head basketball coach, his junior varsity coach, Thomas Purcell. The football passing league was started by John McCurdy, offensive coordinator on the PCHS football staff, and Tim Chesley, a Park City Youth Football booster and owner of a local electric company.

For basketball, the program couldn’t come sooner, as the high school team moves up to Class 5A.

The next few seasons will show the effects of these shifts in Park City High School’s athletic standing.

4. Tour of Utah

Two legs of the six-stage cycling race around Utah whipped through Park City in August, after the race skirted Summit County the year before.

The racers took a grand tour of Summit County this time, first leaving from the Canyons area to make their way to the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon, then made a massive loop around the county, which started and ended on Park City’s Main Street, and passed through Heber and Kamas on its way.

Even as rain fell, spectators lined the streets and roadways to watch the upcoming cyclist Sepp Kuss cross the finish line after a dominant performance that began on leg two.

Kuss crossed the finish line after a charge up Empire Pass in the final leg to catch a failing breakaway group.

His performance secured the 23-year old a spot in the prestigious stage race Vuelta a España – a significant step in his career.

3. UOP Expansion

For youth competitors in alpine, moguls, aerials and freeskiing, the Utah Olympic Park had some good news: two new slopes will be developed near the big air area beside the bobsled track.

Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation president Colin Hilton revealed the plans at Park City Ski and Snowboard’s season-opening meeting in October.

The development will use the old Homestake lift from Deer Valley for its smaller run, which will cover approximately 400 feet of elevation, and is scheduled to open for the 2019/2020 season.

Hilton said the initiative will help get area athletes training on snow earlier in the season, as teams often spend more money early on to travel to places with more powder.

“If we put the right type of snowmaking equipment (on the hill) and get the right temps, we could probably blanket that area in a week’s time,” he said.

The larger hill, planned for the slope just west of the Utah Olympic Park, will sit at an estimated elevation of 1,200 feet, and is scheduled to open for the winter of 2020-2021.

All told, the projects will cost an estimated $11 million, much of which has been pledged from area clubs, including Park City Ski and Snowboard, Rowmark Ski Academy and the University of Utah alpine team.

2. High School success

Returning to preps, 2018 was a successful year for Summit County high school sports. Including club sports, high school teams in the area took home state titles in swimming, volleyball, lacrosse, golf, cross country and football.

Notably, the Park City boys golf team won its 11th straight state title, and the Miners lacrosse teams won both the boys and girls state titles, then played each other at home to cap off the season.

The Miners girls tennis team was tantalizingly close to taking the state title, with one match loss separating the Miners and the championship trophy. Ridgeline earned the title through a 6-3 victory at third singles.

Park City’s volleyball team also spent most of its season in the warm embrace of victory, but came up short at the very end.

The team lost in the state finals to Sky View in straight sets, however, but only after an epic five-set match against Lehi in the semifinals, which the Miners won 3-2.

The Park City football team rose to the challenge of the playoffs, defeating several teams through big plays to reach the semifinals – the farthest they had gone since 2009, and much of this year’s roster is set to return in 2019.

The Miners boys swim team finished second overall, while the girls team took first. Helena Djunic, a freshman, helped the Miners earn the title, and won swimmer of the meet in the process.

South Summit football had an unstoppable season in 3A, going undefeated save for an exhibition match against Park City. The Wildcats went on to win their second state title in two years.

North Summit’s volleyball team also had an incredible season, earning its third straight state title through a nail-biting five-set championship match against Enterprise. After going down 14-12 in the fifth set, the team came back to win 16-14, and finished the season with a 24-6 record. The team was welcomed back to Coalville with a parade, as was its boys cross-country team, which also took state in part through a first-place finish by David Fine.

1. The Olympics

For months, there was a buzz around Park City as area athletes prepared for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea in February.

The lead up to the Winter Games included a showstopping performance by Parkite Sarah Hendrickson at the ski jumping team trials on the last day of 2017, as did Bryan Fletcher in the Nordic combined team trials the day before.

Then, Jaelin Kauf took home a gold and silver during the FIS VISA Freestyle International Ski World Cups at Deer Valley 10 days later.

However, in Pyeongchang, Park City’s athletes struggled. In the end, the athletes who came through Park City were by and large not the national team’s medal winners, the exception being Parkite Brita Sigourney who earned a bronze in ski halfpipe.

In terms of medals, it was a flop for the USA in general. The 242-person team collected 23 medals – the fewest in 20 years. The aftermath led to some restructuring, including Park City’s own Jesse Hunt being chosen to head the U.S. alpine men’s team.

However, there is always another Olympics on the horizon, and Park City could host another Winter Games relatively soon.

In mid-December, the U.S. Olympic Committee chose Salt Lake City to once again represent America’s bid to host a Winter Olympics in 2030, beating out Denver. The return bid means local athletes could have a shot to medals on their home snow. For now, they will focus on the upcoming World Championships, scheduled for Feb. 1-10.

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