Editor’s note: Part I of this story can be found here.
A memorable year for Niwot athletics turned into a memorable Letter of Intent signing day on May 22, as 12 athletes crowded onto the auditorium stage to make an official commitment to competing at the next level.
Caleb Churchill, West Point
Gymnast Caleb Churchill didn’t have a conventional high school athletic career, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t impressive. In his senior year alone, Churchill took second All-Around in the Colorado state championships, with first place finishes in the pommel and floor. He was then named an Academic All-American by USA Gymnastics for the third straight year.
Unfortunately, the popularity of men’s gymnastics has been on the decline for a while now, so when it came time for Churchill to pick a collegiate program, his options were limited. Down from a high of 80 programs in 1980, just 20 NCAA men’s gymnastics programs remain today. Ultimately, the academically-minded Churchill chose the U.S. Military Academy At West Point, where he can do more than just fulfill his athletic ambitions.
“I believe in service and leadership, and it’s a great education,” he said. It’s also an obligation. Upon graduating from the academy, Churchill will enter the army as an officer with a five-year commission. “Everything about it appealed to me—the career and the gymnastics. As I started to get recruited, my interest grew.”
Churchill plans to study languages as a cadet, but hasn’t ruled out a military career. As a gymnast, he hopes to compete in the all around, but said he will do what’s best for the team.
“It will depend on what they need from me to make their best lineups during the season.”
Ava Dumler, Linfield College
For three years, Ava Dumler was a steadfast presence at midfield for the Niwot girls soccer team, and helped lead the squad to league titles during her sophomore and junior years. Next year, she will be taking those talents to Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon.
Linfield isn’t very big. In fact, its total enrollment—2,600—is less than 10 percent of Dumler’s second choice, CU-Boulder. But that suits Dumler just fine.
“I considered CU, because my family has a long history there, but I feel like everything fit better at Linfield,” the future elementary school educator said. “I like that it’s a smaller school and that I can be a lot closer with the teachers. And I just know that the team there has a really good culture, and so I’m super excited about that. I feel like I fit well in Oregon, too.”
Alex Erikson, North Park University
The Niwot boys basketball team was immensely improved in the 2018-19 season and Alex Erikson was a big part of the reason why. As a senior, the point guard led the team in assists and steals, and posted 102 points on the year, more than double his total as a junior.
This fall, Erikson will get a chance to prove himself at the collegiate level when he suits up for the North Park University Vikings, an NCAA Division III team that competes in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin.
“I really liked the area around Chicago,” he said. “I went and visited, and I really liked the coach, and the atmosphere it projected. There’s a lot of history within the school of competing at a high level. So it was just a decision I made on my own with a lot of my parents’ help, but I just figured it was the best fit for me, academically and athletically.”
Erikson plans to study political science and pre-law, with an eye on entering the political arena one day.
Jonathan Jimenez-Flores, Mario Munoz, Manny Tapia, Laramie County Community College
If any fans of Niwot boys soccer are feeling nostalgic next season, then a quick trip up I-25 to Cheyenne may be in order. Longtime Cougar teammates Jonathan Jimenez-Flores, Mario Munoz and Manny Tapia are all headed to the Cowboy State, where they will suit up for the Laramie County Golden Eagles.
Unfortunately, LCCC’s gain means Niwot’s loss, and it will be tough to absorb. The trio has been a crucial factor in the Cougars’ success over the past two seasons, with forwards Jimenez-Flores and Tapia accounting for almost half of the team’s goals (48 of 100). On the other end of the field, keeper Munoz has done just the opposite, and the Cougars have been among the top teams in Class 4A for fewest goals allowed.
Wyoming isn’t the first place that comes to mind as a hotbed of collegiate soccer, but Munoz said Laramie has “one of the best facilities in juco.” The school also has a good track record of signing their athletes to NCAA Division I or II programs after their two-year stints are over, a point that definitely swayed Munoz and Tapia towards the LCCC program.
“I really like the coach, and he was one of the first who approached me,” Munoz said. “He said he could train us and prepare us to compete at the next level.”
Each of the three plans to study business or a related subfield at LCCC.