A sports year like no other: A look back at 2020

In 2020, masks at sporting events became the new normal, as evidenced by this photo of the EHS student section at Kay Fackrell Stadium earlier this fall. Wyoming was fortunate enough to start fall sports on time, and complete their respective seasons; many states weren’t so lucky. (HERALD PHOTO/Don Cogger)

We probably should have seen it coming.

Though sports in 2020 didn’t start coming off the rails until March, there were signs earlier in the year that — hindsight being what it is — should have clued us in that the year in sports was going to take a turn.

On a national level, 2020 got off to an ominous start, with the tragic death in January of LA Laker great Kobe Bryant and his teenage daughter in a helicopter accident. The crash claimed the lives of seven others, and sent shockwaves through the world of sports, waves that continue to be felt.

Things began to look up in February, as awe-struck football fans watched Patrick Mahomes lead the Kansas City Chiefs to an epic comeback win over the 49ers in Super Bowl LIV. But as fans basked in the glow of that victory, there were rumblings that a global pandemic was on the horizon; the day after the Super Bowl, the Trump administration declared a public health emergency due to the outbreak of COVID-19.

It all came to a head on March 11, when an NBA game between Oklahoma City and the Utah Jazz was postponed because of a positive COVID-19 test. Sports fans watched helplessly as the dominos began to fall in the days and weeks that followed; leagues at all levels postponed — then eventually cancelled — regular seasons, postseason tournaments and spring training across the board.

Locally, the Wyoming High School Activities Association was preparing to host the Class 3A and 4A State Basketball Tournaments March 12-14 in Casper, when the decision was made to cancel the event. Many teams were en route to Casper when they got the news, and were forced to turn team buses around and head home.

Less than a month later, high school athletes across the state saw their worst fears realized, when the WHSAA canceled the 2020 spring sports seasons. It was a devastating blow, especially to members of the Class of 2020, whose high school careers on the soccer fields and outdoor tracks came to an unceremonious end.

Sports would eventually start up again, beginning with baseball in the summer, and rolling into fall. New restrictions and protocols were in place — including smaller crowds, social distancing and mandatory facemasks — and for the most part, everyone complied to keep the kids playing. Wyoming was one of the few states in the nation able to begin — and complete — their fall sports seasons on time; winter sports began in earnest in November, and so far, everything appears to be on track.

As we come out of the tunnel that was 2020 and into the light of 2021, let’s take a look back at some of the Evanston High School sports stories that made headlines in Uinta County during the last 12 months.

Red Devils hoops rights ship after 0-11 start

The Evanston High School boys’ basketball team struggled early in the 2019-20 season to find an identity, but when they did, they became a team to beat in the 4A West. The Red Devils shook off an 0-11 start to win 12 of their next 15 games, and qualify for the 4A State Tournament as the No. 3 seed out of the West.

Led by seniors Mason Ellingford and Dawson Crofts, Evanston provided plenty of memorable moments, including Crofts’ 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat quadrant rival Star Valley, and a triple-OT thriller against Green River. Hosting the 4A Southwest Regional Tournament, the Red Devils provided another classic, punching their ticket to state on the strength of a hard-fought 47-39 win over Rock Springs.

A Cinderella run through the 4A State Tournament was not to be, however, as the event was the first Wyoming sports casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic. The team was en route to Casper when they heard the news, while participating in a shoot-around in Rawlins.

“This is just a group of heartbroken guys right now,” said then-head coach Lex Cornia. “This is worse than losing.”

Red Devil wrestlers seventh at state, Wagstaff runner-up at 170

The EHS wrestling team had a solid showing at the 4A State Wrestling Meet February in Casper, placing seventh as a team.

Five Red Devils medaled in their respective classes, led by senior Rigden Wagstaff. Wagstaff wrestled his way into the 170-pound championship match, but came up short against Sheridan’s Hayden Crow for the title.

Other medal winners included sophomore Jaxin Moore (fourth at 120 pounds), junior Kendall Cummings (fifth at 138 pounds), Rigan Hoggatt (fifth at 220 pounds) and senior Eric Orozco (fifth at 285 pounds).

Lady Devils’ hoops

season ends at Regionals

The EHS girls’ basketball team hosted the 4A West Regional Tournament March 5-7, hoping to earn a berth in the 4A State Tournament the following week.

It wasn’t to be. The Lady Devils played hard, but came up just short in a 49-47 loss to Rock Springs to open the tournament; in a loser-out contest against Cody the following day, a strong start was undone by a fourth quarter where shots refused to fall. The Fillies handed Evanston a 43-36 loss, ending their season. For a talented group of seniors — Zocia Nowakowski, Maggie Moore, Taryn Wagstaff, Amber Lowe and Tianna Pierce — it was the final game of their high school careers.

“These girls were fun — they were excited and happy, they had smiles on their faces all the time,” said EHS head coach Jeremy Fessler. “This year went really fast because of that. I loved going to practice and being around the girls. That’s what I’ll take from this group — how they built this program into a family.”

Red Devil swimmers 10th at state

What the EHS boys’ swim team lacked in numbers, they made up for in heart, sending 10 swimmers to Laramie the weekend of Feb. 20-22 for the 4A State Swimming and Diving Meet.

Sophomore Jaxon Nicholls posted Evanston’s highest individual finishes, placing fourth in the 100 backstroke, and seventh in the 100 butterfly.

The Red Devils’ lone senior — Colter Camphouse — finished his high school career with a 10th-place finish in the 200 freestyle and an 11th-place in the 500 freestyle.

“We had high expectations at the beginning of the year,” said EHS head coach Jim Levine. “This group exceeded my expectations. We had a lot of qualifiers this year compared to the past, and I think it’s going to be even better next year.”

WHSAA pulls plug on spring sports seasons

In an unprecedented — though not entirely unexpected — turn of events, the WHSAA made the decision April 7th to cancel the 2020 spring sports seasons, citing safety concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You just think about the kids,” said EHS head girls’ soccer coach Karalyn Barton. “There are a lot of kids where sports are their lifeline — it keeps them engaged, and pushing forward, and something to reach for. It breaks my heart that that’s not there for them right now.”

EHS holds Senior Night for canceled spring sports

Evanston High School seniors who missed out on spring sports and activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic were finally given their chance to shine Friday, May 8th, as seniors were encouraged to line up with their families along Red Devil Drive, displaying their poster boards with photos and accomplishments for all to see.

It was a much-appreciated gesture for the Class of 2020, who lost out on many traditions amid the COVID-19 pandemic, including Senior Nights, prom and walking across the stage at graduation.

“They took a survey nationwide and asked seniors what they’re going to miss the most, and Senior Nights or senior recognition events were at the top of the list,” said EHS activities director Bubba O’Neill. “We wanted to make sure we gave our kids an opportunity to show themselves.”

Outlaws baseball

returns; Watsabaugh hired as boys’ hoops coach

Sports returned to Wyoming the weekend of May 22, with the Evanston Outlaws baseball team opening their season at the Gillette Spring Classic.

The Outlaws — led by veterans Ryan Fisher, Reid Gross and Brenden Thompson — finished 1-3 for the tournament, but the fact that sports were once again being played is what the team will remember.

That same week, former Wyoming assistant Rob Watsabaugh was hired as the new EHS boys’ basketball coach, replacing Lex Cornia, who stepped down in April. Cornia is now the head boys’ coach at Rich High School, in Randolph, Utah.

Outlaws win first AA West Conference title

The Evanston Outlaws finished the 2020 season in August with a 28-22 record, winning their first-ever AA West Conference title.

But after beating Laramie 3-2 in the opening round of the AA State Tournament in Rock Springs, the Outlaws came down to earth in losses against Cheyenne and Sheridan, bowing out of the tournament with a 1-2 record. Gus Allred, Jagger Mitchell and Ryan Fisher all received All-State honors.

“Unless you win your last game of the season, it’s always a disappointment,” said Outlaws manager Chad Thompson. “But that group did some special things this year, with no one expecting them to do it — winning the conference title, earning the No. 1 seed, winning that first game at state. They did some special things with just being a group of ballplayers that love the game.”

Red Devils football ends losing skid

After a winless season in 2019, the EHS football team battled back into the win in September, upsetting the defending 2A state champion Mountain View Buffalos at home in Week 3, 36-21.

Running backs David Perez and Jagger Mitchel scored a pair of touchdowns each, as did quarterback Jaxin Moore; Moore also finished with 23 defensive points, while Mitchell and Mayson Erickson recorded quarterback sacks.

It was the lone win of the season for the Red Devils, who finished with a 1-8 record; the team will lose 12 seniors to graduation. Mitchell and fellow senior Derek Johnson received All-Conference and All-State honors for their efforts.

“The big thing that stands out for me is the team effort,” said EHS head coach Jim Burton. “Their willingness to go do things some of them have never done before — with our injuries and player situations, we ended up putting kids in positions and places they had never played before. It was their willingness to learn — and willingness to try — is really a good thing, and something I will take away from this season.”

Lind finishes runner-up at 4A State Golf; girls sixth, boys eighth

The Red Devil and Lady Devil golf teams each had solid seasons, culminating in a sixth-place finish for the girls and an eighth-place finish for the boys at the 4A State Golf Tournament, Sept. 18th and 19th in Casper.

Senior Braxton Lind’s two-day total of 155 earned him a second-place finish, as well as All-State honors. Fellow senior Zoe Dean was the top finisher on the girls’ side, finishing 15th with a two-day total of 182.

“These kids didn’t have a spring season, so we didn’t get to work with them very much before fall started,” said EHS head coach Jerry Carroll. “Just the excitement of being able to finish the season made it very successful.”

Cross-country teams shine at state

A week after winning the 4A West Cross Country Championship in Laramie, the EHS boys’ cross country team had another strong meet in Casper at state, finishing fourth overall. Red Devil senior Siler Weaver took second place in his final high school meet.

The Lady Devils were sixth overall at state, led by senior Heidi Barton, who finished 20th.

“You look at what we had to overcome this year — we got through a season,” said EHS head coach Ryan Berger. “That’s a success in itself. Finishing a season during a pandemic is quite a feat. It’s just been an odd year, and not just for sports. We needed to get this done as a community, and we came very close. We almost did it. But I still feel like we made our community proud.”

Asay era begins for Lady Devils swimming

This fall, Kendra Asay took over the reins of the EHS girls’ swimming and diving program, and her first team of athletes was a reflection of the enthusiasm she brought to the position. The Lady Devils sent six to Laramie for the 4A State Swimming and Diving Meet, led by senior Addyson Fernandez, and sophomores Kyndall Fernandez and Emily Sawyer. Addyson Fernandez qualified for the finals in the 100 butterfly, placing ninth overall. Evanston also had its first diver in a number of years in Tayler Davis, who became the first Lady Devil to qualify for state in diving since 2013, placing 19th.

“I think they did great — I’m proud of how they competed,” Asay said after the meet. “I think they did awesome. Having four girls that qualified in individual events to make it to state, that says a lot. It’s hard to do.”

Lady Devils volleyball 6-0 in quadrant play

The wild ride that was the EHS volleyball team’s 2020 season will live on in the hearts and minds of fans for years to come. Overcoming a slow start to the season, the Lady Devils peaked at the right time, going undefeated in 4A Southwest Quadrant play and earning the No. 3 seed heading into the state tournament.

Led by four seniors — Taryn Holt, Kambree Brown, Taylor Petersen and Allyson Sawyer — and aided by a talented group of juniors, including Stacia and Mia Barker and Abbie Rigby, Evanston went 1-2 at state, highlighted by a 3-set sweep of 4A West Champion Rock Springs.

“We competed, and I am very proud of the girls,” said EHS head coach Tera Lawlar. “It’s great when you have kids at the end of the season who are sad, obviously, because it’s over, but come up and tell you, ‘Tell us when we’re ready to go, coach, because we’re ready to go for next season.’ To not even have a day to process, or to wrap your head around the end of one season, and already be thinking about the next season is pretty impressive.”

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