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Locals shine as Sportswomen of Colorado announce 2022 award winners

Niwot girls cross country racks up several honors for 2021 achievements

Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
After electrifying the cross country course at the Class 4A state cross country championships in October of 2021, the Niwot girls team was recognized by the Sportswomen of Colorado on Wednesday.

Eva Klingbeil crossed the finish line at the Norris-Penrose Event Center as Niwot cross country’s newly crowned state champion with a sub-18-minute race time.

Mia Prok ended her race at third place, followed by Bella Nelson at fifth, Stella Vieth at eighth and Sarah Perkins at ninth. It’s almost unheard of for a cross country team to place all five of their scorers in the top 10 at a race as large as the October Class 4A state championships that welcomed 158 contestants.

Niwot’s girls, however, made the feat look easy. The Cougars scored 20 points en route to victory, beating out second-place Battle Mountain by a jaw-dropping 118 points. They even almost added two more to that top-10 list, as Madison Shults finished 11th and Tessa Everett took 16th.

Coinciding with National Girls and Women in Sports Day, the Sportswomen of Colorado organization — which exists to “promote, honor and empower Colorado girls and women in sport” — on Wednesday released its annual list for the 2022 honorees, the ladies who stood out in their respective fields among a list of ultra-talented contenders during the 2021 calendar year.

Niwot athletics stood out in a glittering crowd as its cross country team won Team of the Year and head coach Kelly Christensen raked in the Coach of the Year award for his contribution to the sport. Taylor James, a Niwot track and field superstar, was also named as an honoree after wrapping up her high school career with 10 state titles in individual and relay events in just three years. Her junior year was canceled due to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Terri Ward, who serves as vice president of the SOC board, recently retired as the girls basketball coach at Niwot.

“I think it means more to Niwot and myself just because Terri Ward is such a big part of the award and someone who really paved the way for females in athletics and in coaching,” Christensen said. “She’s always been an advocate, so I think it’s more about that and just recognizing how far female sports have come. It’s going to continue to grow.”

Niwot, however, was far from the only school in BoCoPreps’ coverage area to receive recognition.

Ava Kuszak decided to check her email one day during her Holy Family AP chemistry class. Upon learning that she earned the All-Round special award, her jaw dropped and her hand rose to cover her mouth.

AURORA, CO - Oct. 23, 2021: ...
Daily Camera file photo
Holy Family’s Ava Kuszak won state soccer and softball titles with her Tigers teammates in 2021.

“My teacher asked if I was OK, and I was like, ‘YES!’,” she recalled.

In 2021, Kuszak helped her Tiger teams to not one but two state titles in softball and soccer. She averaged a monster .517 batting average with 46 runs, 46 hits and 30 RBIs while serving as a trusted senior voice for the young talent that the team possessed. She also swims for Holy Family.

Her achievements weren’t limited to CHSAA-sanctioned sports. Her club softball team won the Nebraska Gold 18u national championship, the Independence Day Tournament and the Premier Girls Fastpitch national championship, the latter of which was televised on ESPN.

Jefferson Academy’s Aubri Braecklein, Dawson’s Degen Miller and Fairview’s Carol Callan also received recognition in this year’s class of honorees.

Callan, who served as the athletic director and girls basketball coach at Fairview from 1986 to 1995, earned the SOC’s Leadership award just months after being inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. Among her many accomplishments, she served as the USA Basketball Women’s National Director for over two decades and directed seven Olympic teams to gold medal performances as well as five World Championships.

Braecklin didn’t just wrap up her senior year with a title in the 3A state championship. She recorded 69 strokes to beat out the second-place performance by five strokes, and that dominant run earned her CHSAA’s 3A Golfer of the Year, Colorado Junior Golf Alliance Player of the Year and Metro League senior of the year. She won every tournament she competed in last season and, in 2020, became the youngest competitor to win the Colorado Women’s Stroke Play Championship when she was just 17.

Miller, likewise, wowed on the pitch. She won the 2021 Gatorade Player of the Year for Colorado after netting 43 goals and 16 assists during her senior season. She led her team to the highest-scoring girls state championship game in CHSAA history, a 15-4 slugfest over Telluride, with four goals herself. Her three years in high school soccer — minus the COVID-canceled 2020 season — yielded 99 goals and 40 assists through 33 matches.

Each of the local ladies, among a field of superstars, brought pride to their schools throughout 2021. Now, thanks to the Sportswomen of Colorado, they can continue to serve as inspiration to these institutions long after they’re gone.

“Receiving this award is just an amazing feeling,” Kuszak said. “More than recognizing my accomplishments, it’s proof to all younger women athletes that no matter what, you can play any sport your heart desires.  You can have a set goal, like playing college softball, and put your heart into multiple sports and still accomplish your main goal.”

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