ASPEN - Brent Hayes and the Basalt soccer team face the tall task of replacing not only quantity but quality next fall.
Six members of the Longhorns' senior class, one of the largest in program history, were lauded at a recent meeting of 2A Western coaches. Willy Salamanca, Sean Ryan, Brandon Henriquez and Elmer Rodriguez secured first-team All-Conference honors. Cody Rewinkel and Javier Gonzalez were honorable mentions.
Aspen sweeper Erik Wehse also earned a spot on the first team, while teammates Kyler Sciarrone and Colter Robinson garnered honorable mentions. Player of the year went to Roaring Fork sweeper Enrique Abarca, and Moffat County's Rusty Cox was named top coach.
Salamanca, Ryan, Henriquez and Rodriguez were instrumental in helping the Longhorns log 10 victories, finish second in the league and advance to the second round of the playoffs. They were ousted by eventual state semifinalist Faith Christian.
Despite missing two of 16 games, Salamanca, a diminutive midfielder, led the team with 16 goals. He scored four times in back-to-back games against Colorado Rocky Mountain and Vail Mountain schools to close out the regular season.
"That desire to win at all costs, he really has that," Hayes said. "He has such spirit, and he did what it took in the offseason and in every practice. He was always intense, and he made things happen. We could've used him for sure (in our loss to 4A Battle Mountain)."
Ryan's speed posed a constant threat to opposing defenses, and he had a knack for setting up teammates for easy scores. He led Basalt with 10 assists and also pitched in with six goals - including a last-minute, game-winning connection in the Longhorns' playoff opener against Pagosa Springs.
"He was another one who led by example with no push from me," Hayes said. "He was a natural choice for captain. ... He's there to win, and you knew he was always going to put it all out there.
"That speed always put us in a position to score and put defenses on their heels a little bit."
While Ryan was an integral part of an offense that scored 56 goals this fall, Henriquez led a defense that surrendered just 18.
Basalt's back line struggled while Henriquez battled injury early in the season. In Sept. 8's loss to Moffat County, a late defensive breakdown yielded a Bulldogs penalty kick that proved to be the difference.
"That doesn't happen if he's at full speed. Nobody goes around Brandon," Hayes said. "He healed up and worked on some things, and the defense let in very few goals. ... I really trusted his instincts and his skill."
Hayes routinely implored Rodriguez to trust his skills. While he was tentative at times, Rodriguez showcased a powerful right foot that helped him score seven times.
He also was instrumental in helping the Longhorns control possession and the midfield, Hayes said.
"I think he was one of our more well-rounded players. You could plug him in anywhere," the coach added. "He had such a great shot. I wish we would've seen it more."
Aspen head coach Junior Sutherland did not return calls seeking comment.