Seniors shine with talent, leadership
The Pueblo West High School class of 2013 turned in a ton of tremendous athletic accomplishments over the past year.
It is Pueblo West View tradition to honor the top senior athletes in every graduating class by naming the All-Senior team.
Unlike our usual, opinion-free reporting of the Cyclones’ wins and losses throughout the year, this is purely an opinion column based on personal observations and impressions. This stuff is my opinion, and it is debatable, but few people outside of athletic director Jamie Wagner see as many Pueblo West sporting events as I do in a given year.
Typically athletes make this team by displaying character and leadership as well as talent and achievement. Extra consideration is given to athletes who excel in multiple sports, but being a multi-sport star is not a requisite.
SIMPLY THE BEST
This section also could have been titled ‘Simply a beast,’ because that’s what Derek Jackson was. He was a beast, and he was the best.
The 5-foot-8, 185-pound running back turned in the best single season by a Pueblo running back... ever. Jackson amassed 3,343 rushing yards in 2012 — the second-highest single-season total in Colorado high school history. He became Pueblo’s all-time leading rusher.
Jackson had big shoes to fill, following in the footsteps of older brother Justin, who led the Cyclones to a state title in 2007, and he did so admirably. Derek Jackson put in all the work in the weight room and with agility and speed training to craft a monstrous physique. He had break-away speed, lightning-fast cuts and punishing power.
Jackson piled up five consecutive 300-yard games at one point in 2012 and helped the Cyclones go undefeated in the regular season, earn a No. 1 seed in the playoffs and advance to the state semifinals. In the semifinal loss to Monarch, he had 194 yards with a 79-yard touchdown run.
Jackson is slated to play football next season in Nebraska for Chadron State, a Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference rival of Colorado State University-Pueblo.
ON TOP IN TWO SPORTS
Taylor Leyva was a leader for two tremendously successful teams.
Leyva earned MVP status in the South-Central League last fall after helping lead the Pueblo West volleyball team to a perfect league record and another in a long line of league championships.
After a brief November break, she took up a leadership role for the girls basketball team that spent the entire season ranked in the state’s top five.
Leyva led the team in scoring at 17 points per game as the Cyclones piled up an astonishing 25-2 record. They made it to the Final 4 for the second season in a row. Leyva earned All-Colorado first-team honors.
In addition to being a top talent, Leyva was the kind of kid I wanted to interview when I knew the interview would be tough. She gave honest and thoughtful answers before and after big games, win or lose. She handled herself like an adult. She accepted the responsibility of a leadership role, whether she and the team had a good game or a rough game.
After the heart-breaking Final 4 loss in Boulder, I sat in the stands with Leyva and had a nice conversation, in which she gave gracious answers to tough questions.
Leyva joins a short list of Pueblo West athletes to earn the right to play college sports at the Division I level; she is set to play basketball for Northern Arizona next season.
Haley Bertoldo was one of the state’s elite swimmers for several years, and that is an astounding accomplishment for a young woman who went to a school with no pool.
Cheyenne Mountain is a swimming factory. Girls who attend schools around Denver practice and compete in spectacular facilities. Bertoldo’s school has no pool, and she swam most of her high school meets in the little, dimly-lit pools around Pueblo.
And yet Bertoldo turned in the state’s top times, better than the girls from Cheyenne Mountain and parts north, for years.
Bertoldo never broke through and won a state championship, but she placed second in the state in the butterfly and third in the backstroke in 2012, and in 2013 she placed third in the butterfly and fourth in the backstroke. At times during both seasons, she was seeded No. 1 in the state.
Pueblo West has an excellent swim program — among the best in the region when one considers the boys and girls teams together — but it took a tremendous amount of individual commitment and family support for Bertoldo to reach the heights she did. She is the most decorated swimmer in the history of Pueblo West High School.
Bertoldo, like Leyva, will be competing at a Division I level next year; she is committed to swim for Brigham Young University.
MORE THAN TALENT
Like anybody who associates with Chieftain sportswriter Jeff Letofsky, I started hearing about Logen Letofsky a long time ago. I was skeptical; I am always skeptical of a proud sports parent talking up his kid before the kid has reached the varsity level.
But Logen Letofsky exceeded everything I was led to expect by the time he was done at Pueblo West.
After the baseball team lost the state title game in heartbreaking fashion in Denver, another reporter and I gave the guys quite a while before we tried to conduct interviews. It is, after all, a tough time for a disappointed athlete to talk, and one player actually turned down another reporter’s request to talk. That reporter was worried about what kind of interview he was going to get, and how long it was going to take.
But I knew I would talk to Logen. Not just because he was the team’s top pitcher with an earned run average of about 1.00, and not just because he was one of the team’s offensive leaders with an average well over .400. I knew I would interview Logen because I knew he would answer all of the tough questions with maturity.
Letofsky also was the star of West’s basketball team in the winter, carrying the load with a scoring average of 19 points per game.
He was a leader for both teams, and he took responsibility for it, win or lose.
Letofsky is signed to play college baseball next year for Ventura College in California.
The following young men and women deserve honorable mention here, either for exceptional talent, hard work, great attitude, or a combination of those things: Gavin Compton, Jacob Torres, Kayla Perry, Kaila Alberici, all the seniors on the baseball team and all the seniors on the boys swim team.
Mike Griffin has covered Pueblo West High School sports for the View since 2003. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.