| AspenTimes.com

Spring prep season in peril after CHSAA extends suspension until at least April 18

The spring high school sports season has been pushed back even more, and there is plenty of reason to doubt it will happen at all.

Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Colorado High School Activities Association announced Tuesday the current suspension of all spring activities would be extended until at least April 18. On top of this, all CHSAA music events have been canceled, as well as the CHSAA Hall of Fame event scheduled for April 14.

“It’s not the one you want to hear, but rarely are those smart decisions the ones you really want to hear,” Basalt High School athletic director Jason Santo said. “While it hurts for me as an athletic director not to have my kids out on the field or in a competition, I also know we are keeping our kids safe. That, I can realize, is the smart decision.”

CHSAA originally announced Thursday that all spring sports and activities were to be suspended until April 6. Later that same evening, the organization canceled the remainder of the state basketball tournaments, which had been slated to conclude over the weekend.

Citing updated safety recommendations made by state and federal health officials, including the closing of large gathering places and limiting large crowds, CHSAA Commissioner Rhonda Blanford-Green made the decision to further delay the spring prep season. The CHSAA office has even closed with employees working remotely until at least March 30.

“Better than them just pulling the plug. At least it’s still showing that we are going to give it a chance,” Aspen High School athletic director Martha Richards said. “She’s going to try to do everything she can to make sure these kids get to play in some way, shape or form. That’s something everyone should be really appreciative of. It may ultimately end up being out of her hands.”

Spring sports practices got underway March 2, with most sports having the option to start playing games March 12. Between Aspen and Basalt, the only team to have competed before the suspension was AHS girls golf at a tournament last week in Grand Junction. Both schools had numerous teams slated to get underway this past weekend before the moratorium hit.

“Just to delay it a little bit longer is the smart thing to do,” Santo said. “With everything that is going on right now, Rhonda really had no option; CHSAA had no option. The decision had to be made in the best interest of all the student-athletes to postpone until we know more information.”

With no better than an April 18 start date, many questions remain regarding the season happening at all. Taking into account spring break, which had been scheduled for the week of March 23, neither AHS nor BHS had much on the athletic calendar until the first week of April. From there the schedules were packed with contests until the conclusion of the regular season in the second or third week of May, depending on the sport.

Assuming an April 18 return, neither athletic director had many answers on the logistics of how the schedule would be played out. Some sports, like golf and tennis, can technically go straight to regionals and state without needing a regular season. Others, like soccer, lacrosse and baseball, typically need some sort of regular season to determine postseason seeding.

“It’s still doable at this time in some fashion, I think. We just have to stick with that and control the things we can control and obviously let go of the other ones,” said Richards, who also coaches the AHS girls golf team. “I feel like the Legislative Council and our commissioner and all the assistant commissioners, they are truly trying to do everything they can to save the season. I think they will exhaust every option and idea to at least give these kids a chance to play some games. I have no idea what that would look like, but I know they will do their best.”

The current suspension includes all practices. And with school itself being closed through at least spring break due to the coronavirus threat, even accessing the playing fields for impromptu practices isn’t allowed. Some coaches, however, have been posting optional workouts for athletes to do from home in the interim.

There isn’t much coaches or players can do otherwise.

“The message I’ve sent when I’ve talked to the coaches is the season isn’t canceled yet,” Richards said. “Not knowing is the hardest for them. We are just trying to keep everyone’s spirits up and let them know CHSAA, all the ADs, we are all fighting for, how do we make sure some sort of season happens?”

Whether the season happens or not, Santo believes CHSAA’s ultimate decision should be on the same page with the rest of the country.

“I don’t think one state can be a lone wolf on this type of decision. I think every state has to fall in line with how they handle high school athletics, similar to the way colleges did,” Santo said. “There has to be a sweeping determination through all states. It’s a difficult thing to do.”

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Aspen’s Eric Sullivan hopes to become the first to ski notorious Nolan’s 14 route

Only a handful of people have ever completed the Nolan’s 14 course during the summer, and as far as anyone knows it’s never been done during the winter on skis. Aspen’s Eric Sullivan hopes to become the first by the beginning of next week.

“I’m going to have to go deep, but I can’t go too deep where I can’t recover,” Sullivan said. “I’ve learned a lot on this thing and it’s time to put it all together. But I feel confident in it. I’m relaxed going into it.”

Sullivan, who goes by “Sully” and has likely delivered a Big Wrap order to most Aspen locals, is an accomplished endurance athlete and once held the world record for most vertical feet skied in a 24-hour period.

Nolan’s 14 will be a much different animal, as the idea is to climb and ski 14 of Colorado’s 14,000-foot mountains in one go. The target time for the summer races is to finish within 60 hours; Sullivan is aiming to finish within 100 hours for his skiing attempt.

“Just finishing it is going to be good enough. Getting under 100 is the whipped cream on top,” the 39-year-old Sullivan said. “With there being no previous FKT, or fastest known time in the endurance world, anything is going to be a record. But, like I said, I want to go quick.”

Nolan’s 14 is named after famed Colorado climber Ken Nolan and came to be in the 1990s. It’s not a race, but an “endurance test piece,” as Sullivan puts it, an athlete vs. mountain affair that few have conquered. Among those to finish during the summer is Aspen’s own Ted Mahon.

The fourteeners to tackle are centered on the Sawatch Range, just over Independence Pass from Aspen. Sullivan, who plans to start Friday morning, will begin with Mount Shavano near Salida and ultimately finish with Mount Elbert — the highest peak in the Rockies — and Mount Massive, both near Leadville.

Sullivan said the course is roughly 100 miles with 48,000 vertical feet of climbing. He’s attempted the feat before, but did it later in the season with less snow and far less support. He’s incredibly confident going into this weekend’s attempt.

“It’s just so hard. It’s probably the most physically demanding thing I’ve ever tried,” Sullivan said. “It’s all just doing the math and keeping it simple and staying within yourself at all times.”

Sullivan’s endeavor is being sponsored by Justin Douglas and Corvus Janitorial Systems, as well as The North Face. Aspen Custom Vans even set him up with a set of wheels to use along the way.

It’s not just about the feat, either, as Sullivan is trying to raise money for SEAL Future Foundation, which supports Navy SEALs after their service. Sullivan, who is from Kansas before moving to the Gunnison area and eventually Aspen, said he had always dreamed of being a Navy SEAL but was denied that opportunity because of poor vision.

After starting off with Shavano, Sullivan plans to then summit Tabeguache and Antero in succession. He’ll be able to rendezvous with his support team after that before attempting to ski Princeton, Yale, Columbia, Harvard, Oxford, Belford, Missouri, Huron and La Plata before the Elbert-Massive finish.

In one of his previous attempts, Sullivan skied nine of the fourteeners in 36 hours with only 40 minutes of sleep. He’s going to prioritize more sleep on his first night but will “go for broke” after that. He hopes to finish by Monday evening.

“The last five or six are going to be pretty hard and fast and trying to get it done,” Sullivan said. “Patience is going to be the key, and having a good time. All my friends are going to be out skiing with me. Last time I skied by myself the whole time. This time I’ll probably ski 25 percent of it by myself. So it will be a lot safer and more fun.”

Sullivan will wear a tracking device linked to his Facebook page so friends and fans can follow along. His support team will post photos, videos and other updates on both his Facebook (eric.sullivan.549) and Instagram (@aspensully) accounts.

“I’m feeling good going into it,” Sullivan said less than 48 hours from the start. “It’s all about perspective, and my perspective on this is whatever it takes, as long as it takes. As long as I feel my effort was properly executed with no mistakes.”

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Young AVSC skiers shine at regional big mountain competition in Snowmass

What Johnny Rossman wanted to point out more than anything else is how much freeriding has blossomed in recent years. It certainly remains a niche scene in skiing, behind that of Alpine and more traditional freestyle competitions like halfpipe and slopestyle, but big mountain skiing is certainly on an uptick here in the Rockies.

“It’s like the return of freeride. We have not really had a great presence in Aspen for quite some time,” Rossman said. “With us having success on the national level, other clubs are intrigued and want to come and check out what we got going on.”

Rossman coaches the big mountain skiers through the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club and spent a handful of years competing on the Freeride World Tour, the sport’s pinnacle. He’s seen the ebbs and flows and can’t help but feel ecstatic for where the AVSC freeride program is today.

This past Sunday, the Colorado Junior Freeride tour made its return to the area. The regional competition had been held at Aspen Highlands more often than not in recent years, but moved over to Snowmass and the Cirque Headwall and its gnarly cliffs this year. Actually, it was held in Snowmass last year, as well, but that competition was canceled due to heavy snowfall.

This year’s competition was about picture perfect and included some impressive performances by AVSC athletes.

“It’s a huge deal,” Rossman said. “We had a really awesome weekend. It was great for the whole valley. We had a big showing from some other ski clubs as well, which was really nice.”

Aspen’s Max Bass stole the show, winning the male 15-18 category behind his casual 360 over a 70-foot cliff, according to Rossman. Bass is one of the top-ranked skiers in the Rocky Mountain region this season and is knocking on the door of bigger competitions in coming years. His goal is to reach the FWT.

Rossman said freeriding competitions have changed a lot since his days — which wasn’t but a handful of years ago — but all-around skiers like Bass have a chance to shine in today’s big mountain world.

“That was more of a pretty serious environment. It was kind of a go big or go home type of thing,” Rossman said of the FWT when he competed. “There has been a change in mentality of just jumping off the biggest cliffs to now skiing very technical terrain, big airs, landing and incorporating tricks.”

Aspen’s Isaac Wilder Musselman finished second behind Bass in Sunday’s competition. AVSC swept the top three spots in the female 15-18 category, led by Annika Nichols. Chloe Ferraro was second and Selby Hall was third.

In the 12-14 age division, AVSC rising star Sheldon Sims took the boys’ crown, followed in second by Bodhi Yang and in third by Nate Thomas for another Aspen podium sweep. AVSC skier Hanna Lamm was second on the girls’ side, with Maia Cullwick coming in third. Gabrielle Leonardo, who competes as an independent athlete, won the contest.

Next up, the AVSC freeriders head to Snowbird in Utah this week and then they have a final regional in Breckenridge before going to Crystal Mountain Resort in Washington for the IFSA North American Junior Freeride Championships beginning April 7. The season finale is by invite only, but Rossman said the Aspen club is sitting quite nicely to have at least a handful get the nod to compete.

“It’s been on all categories and genders, which is really sweet,” Rossman said of AVSC’s big mountain success. “Right now we have like 10 kids who are ranked near the top in North America. We’ve never had that before.”

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Sports briefs: Gaston, Pihl win annual America’s Uphill race on Aspen Mountain

Gaston, Pihl conquer Ajax to win America’s Uphill crowns

A week after he and Max Taam broke a course record to win another Power of Four ski mountaineering race, Aspen’s John Gaston was the top overall finisher in Saturday’s annual America’s Uphill race on Aspen Mountain.

Put on by the Ute Mountaineer, the race is a 2.5-mile trek with more than 3,000-vertical feet of climbing up Ajax. Gaston, who competes internationally in skimo, finished in 41 minutes, 11 seconds. He was competing in the “heavy metal” category.

Carbondale’s Sean Van Horn, another noted endurance athlete, was second overall in 44:34, competing in the “track skis” category. In third was Aspen’s Alvaro Arnal (45:34), who competed in the open category.

Tracy Pihl, another local athlete, was the fastest woman with a time of 59:03. Carbondale’s Jennifer Mendez was second (1:00:29) and Aspen’s Hannah Dodge was third (1:01:46).

Peppino’s DV Track Club, which included Van Horn and Pihl, was the top collective team on Saturday.

Complete results can be found at www.utemountaineer.com.

COAL RIDGE BASKETBALL STAR GERBER STILL HAS CHANCE TO MAKE FINAL FOUR SHOOTING CONTEST

(Post Independent) — The table was set for Coal Ridge High School students to try to push senior basketball player Austin Gerber over the top in his semifinal fan-vote round for a chance to take part in the NCAA Final Four preps 3-point shooting contest.

But just before a planned all-school assembly was set to start Thursday morning for both Coal Ridge and neighboring Riverside Middle School the amfam.com voting site apparently crashed, according to Gerber’s mother, Aimee Gerber.

The voting closed at 11 a.m. as scheduled without all those last-minute votes that had been planned, and Gerber was down by just 0.2 percentage points (50.1% to 49.9%) in his matchup with Colin Dougherty of Sherwood Christian out of Albany, Ga.

After the problem was pointed out to the organizers of the American Family Insurance #DreamFearlessly Fan Vote contest, they agreed to pause the voting instead of declaring a winner.

Voting will now resume between 9:30–11 a.m. (MDT, after this weekend’s time change back to Daylight Savings Time) on Monday. And Coal Ridge is getting the word out to drum up a final barrage of votes to send Gerber to the finals.

Gerber won the first two rounds of voting by margins of 65% and 55% in the contest to send an “under the radar” high school player to be part of the eight-contestant preps 3-point shooting competition during the college basketball finals weekend April 5 in Atlanta. The social-media campaign is being sponsored by American Family Insurance.

Gerber is a 47% 3-point shooter this year, and his Titans team qualified to play in the Class 3A regional round of the state playoffs this weekend, losing a tough one, 59-51 Friday night to DSST: Green Valley Ranch.

The #DreamFearlessly contest began with 16 of the top statistical 3-point shooters in the nation in a bracket-style competition. There’s a separate contest for girls’ 3-point shooters and for the boys’ slam dunk competition.

If Gerber makes it to the final round after voting resumes and closes again Monday morning, he would be matched against the winner of the other semifinal matchup between Greg Farrow of University School (Milwaukee) and Mitchell Carlos from Casa Grande Union High (Casa Grande, Ariz.).

SHAUN WHITE SAYS HE WON’T COMPETE IN SUMMER OLYMPICS, COULD MAKE PUSH FOR 2022 WINTER GAMES

VAIL (AP) — If the world sees Shaun White at an Olympics again, it will be in 2022, not later this year.

The three-time snowboarding champion told The Associated Press that he is taking skateboarding off his plate and won’t try to qualify for that sport’s Olympic debut later this year in Tokyo.

“The decision became less about going for skate and more about, am I willing to walk away from snow?” White said last weekend while attending the Burton U.S. Open in Vail. “It just was going in that direction, and I didn’t feel comfortable with it and I can’t wholeheartedly choose this path with what I’ve got going on snow.”

White, who for years was every bit as successful a skateboarder as a snowboarder, had been dangling the possibility of joining the rare group of athletes to compete in both Winter and Summer Games.

He has long excelled in vert contests, which most resemble a snowboard halfpipe competition, but it is not part of the Olympic program. He was trying to make the switch to park, which combine halfpipes and quarterpipes with stairs and rails. White headed to Brazil last summer to compete at skateboarding world championships, where he finished 13th.

He thought about it for a while and realized the work he’d have to put in to compete against full-time skateboarders for an Olympic spot would compromise his chances of returning to the Winter Games in Beijing for a shot at a fourth gold medal.

“It doesn’t mean I’m committed to going to China, but it doesn’t feel too far-fetched for me,” said the 33-year-old White. “I still feel great and that’s where it got left for me. I’m dipping back into snow, and doing what feels right.”

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Aspen’s Gaston, Taam again reset record book in another Power of Four skimo win

John Gaston’s dominance in the Power of Four ski mountaineering race almost ended because of a couple of broken ski poles. Then, after about 20 minutes of pole-less skinning up Aspen Highlands, a kind stranger intervened to save the day.

“I owe her a debt of gratitude,” Gaston said. “I want to buy that person a beer. I’d actually find her and return her poles, because she saved my day big time. The race would have been over. Without her I don’t think we would have been able to get to the top of the bowl.”

With this mystery person’s ski poles in hand, Gaston and teammate Max Taam got back on track and did what they do best, which is win the Power of Four in record fashion. Aspen’s dynamic duo were the first across the finish line in Saturday’s race with a time of 4 hours, 28 minutes, 37.87 seconds, breaking their own course record by about nine minutes. The old record, which they set in their 2018 race win, was 4:37:36.

However, in the race two years ago they won by more than 30 minutes over Paul Hamilton and Cam Smith. They really had to earn their win Saturday with Crested Butte’s Smith and Utah’s Tom Goth hot on their heels the entire time.

“We were pretty much going to need a new record in order to beat those guys. It was pretty fast right from the gun,” Taam said. “We know skiing is our strength. Those guys are super fit on all the climbs, so we sort of went for it on the Highlands descent to try and get a gap and slowly grew it from there.”

The Audi Power of Four skimo race, which celebrated its 10th event on Saturday, began that morning in Snowmass and required athletes to skin up and ski down all four of the local ski hills, including Buttermilk, Aspen Highlands and finally Aspen Mountain, tallying about 25 miles and 10,000 vertical feet of climbing. Organized by Aspen Skiing Co., it’s sanctioned by the United States Ski Mountaineering Association and has become one of the larger skimo races in the country.

Over the past decade, Gaston has won eight times, seven with Taam. He won his first race in 2012 with his brother, Pete Gaston, who he co-founded Strafe Outerwear with. Billy Laird and Brian Smith won in 2017, when Gaston and Taam didn’t compete because of the world championships. That’s about the only way to beat the pair in the Power of Four.

That is, hope they don’t show up, which came close to happening this year. Gaston, who like Taam has long represented the U.S. on the international stage in skimo, has been actively competing in World Cup events this winter. Taam hasn’t, and was hesitant to race Saturday knowing Goth and Smith, who also are two of the country’s skimo all-stars, where again teaming up.

“We’ve been talking about it for a month or two now. Then two weeks ago — John is obviously super fit, racing all over the world — he convinced me to step it up for a real big training weekend,” Taam said, noting they only officially committed to racing a week ago. “I was very pleasantly surprised to win and set a course record. We had such a good streak I didn’t want to come back and not hold up my end of the bargain.”

Gaston and Taam were in a dead heat with Smith and Goth, reaching the top of the Highland Bowl at the same time. That descent gave Gaston and Taam the narrowest of margins to the Congo trailhead and they were able to hold on for the win from there. Smith and Goth finished in 4:38:16.67, less than a minute off the 2018 course record. Jon Brown and Rory Kelly finished third with a time of 5:13:16.87.

Gaston and Taam also beat Smith and Goth in the 2019 race, held on a much slower and snowier course.

“We knew Tom and Cam were racing together and that kind of inherently meant that whoever won this year was going to have to break the record, because Cam and Tom are really fast. They don’t have any weak points,” Gaston said. “We still have a little bit of a home-court advantage on some of the descents, but they are the next two fastest descenders in the whole race, so it’s not a big advantage. It was pretty stressful for the first three hours of that race.”

The Summit County duo of Kate Zander and Jill Seager won the women’s race in 6:03:24.37, holding off Jessie Young, who is married to Taam, and Nikki LaRochelle, who finished in 6:10:06.87. In third were Lindsay Plant and Grace Staberg in 6:14:33.58. Young and LaRochelle paired up to win the 2019 race.

For the second straight year, the main Power of Four races were the official USSMA national championships for the team event.

“This was by far the hardest Power of Four we’ve had, frankly. And I knew it would be,” Gaston said in regards to Smith and Goth. “They are two of the guys who put in more effort in their training and commitment to this sport than anyone else in this country. There was going to be nowhere to hide. There was going to be no faking it. So we had to be on it the whole day.”

Timothy Faia and Dirk Friel paired up to win the men’s masters (45-plus) championship division in 6:20:49.37. In the non-championship Power of Four races, Jason Killgore and Logan Greydanus won the men’s race (5:12:06.87) while sisters Caroline and Sarah Tory won the women’s race (6:25:03.08). The Power of Four co-ed crown went to Alvaro Arnal and Kristin Layne (5:56:57.37).

In the Power of Two, Chris Beck and Nathan Nelson paired up to win the men’s division, while Julie Case and Rachel Beck won on the women’s side. Chris Lane and Kim Master won the co-ed race.

For complete results, click here.

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Aspen boys basketball set for rematch with Roaring Fork with state spot on line

Not even four weeks have gone by since the teams last met, yet so much has changed. The Aspen High School boys basketball team has a swagger it hasn’t had in six years, while Roaring Fork hardly looks like the same team that started the season 1-11 before going on a bit of a hot streak as of late.

Both teams looked dead in the water not that long ago. Now, they will square off Friday afternoon in the Class 3A Western Slope League district semifinals with a spot in the 32-team state tournament on the line. Aspen hasn’t been to the state tournament since the 2013-14 season.

“We haven’t had that work ethic, and this year we finally started putting that into our game and it’s all changed,” AHS senior Aidan Ledingham said. “It’s so great to be part of a winning program again. Going to the playoffs is such a cool dream to have and we are so close to obtaining it.”

No. 7 seed Aspen (13-8) and No. 6 seed Roaring Fork (6-14) are scheduled to tipoff at 4:30 p.m. Friday in a game played at Grand Junction Central High School. No. 1 Gunnison (18-2) and No. 5 Delta (9-11) play at 7:30 p.m. in the other semifinal, with the winners scheduled to play at 2:30 p.m. Saturday for the district championship. The losers will play in Saturday’s 11:30 a.m. third-place game.

The league gets two automatic qualifiers into the state tournament, so both teams that make the district final are guaranteed to make regional play next week. All other teams will have to qualify based off RPI; Aspen is right on the bubble, while Roaring Fork likely has little to no chance to make state without the automatic berth.

“It’s so special. We haven’t had that in basketball since I’ve been here, at least,” AHS senior Jonathan Woodrow said of possibly making state. “We’ve had a losing season pretty much every year and it’s been rough. We are finally able to win and to have a chance to get into state is super exciting, especially my last year here. It couldn’t be a better time.”

Both teams are coming off big quarterfinal upsets. The Rams knocked off No. 3 Grand Valley on Tuesday, 38-36, after having a first-round bye. The Skiers rolled over No. 10 Cedaredge in the district play-in game, 70-35, before a wild 61-59 overtime win over No. 2 Coal Ridge on Tuesday in New Castle.

Trailing by six points in the fourth quarter, AHS rallied and it was a 3-pointer by sophomore Lucas Lee in the waning seconds that sent the game to overtime. Lee also had the OT put-back that proved to be the game-winner with about 20 seconds to go. Sophomore Braden Korpela and freshman Taylor Akin did a lot of the heavy lifting during the game.

“I don’t really know how to describe it. I couldn’t stop smiling the whole way home,” Lee said. “It was just a lot of fun because we were down so many points with little time left and we all just came together. Obviously I had a pretty big shot that sent us to overtime, but Braden and Taylor really carried us the whole way.”

Aspen is particularly happy to face Roaring Fork again, and the Rams might feel the same way. They played once this season, on Feb. 1 in Aspen, where the team from Carbondale pulled off a somewhat shocking 33-24 win. At the time it was only Roaring Fork’s third win of the season, but it also helped propel them to winning four out of five games at one point.

It was a damaging loss for the Skiers, the start of a four-game losing streak that seemed to have derailed their season. It may also have been a loss that helped wake them up just in time for a run to the state tournament.

“We went in there thinking we could just destroy them because of our record,” Ledingham said of the first game against the Rams. “We came out with low energy and we didn’t have any fight because we thought we were more talented and we could just win and that did not happen. They outplayed us and they made us play their ball.”

Aspen did play that game without Woodrow, a key piece of their puzzle, and Korpela credited the Rams’ 1-2-2 zone for the loss, a defense that did a good job of neutralizing the Skiers’ inside presence.

“We just couldn’t figure out a way to get through that zone. The players on the court didn’t make the right adjustments and it was hard to shred through that zone,” Korpela said. “We have grown from that game and haven’t let that bring us down too much.”

More than anything, the team’s growth has come from effort, not so much X’s and O’s. Fourth-year coach Alex Schrempf said he had to spend many halftimes earlier in the season trying to get the players motivated and energized, acting more as a counselor than a coach.

The Skiers haven’t had that issue over the past few games, including Tuesday’s dramatic and possibly season-saving win over the Titans.

“When we lost four in a row we weren’t handling adversity very well,” Korpela said. “But now we’ve come together as a team and I feel like our chemistry has gone up a lot. Earlier in the season when people made mistakes we would get mad at them or just put our head down and make it worse than it actually was. Now we are lifting each other up and just have that next play mentality.”

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Colbert’s Prep Playbook: Playoff mania hits stride and AHS boys have chance

So you’re telling me there’s a chance?

No, I’m not queuing up any overdone “Dumb and Dumber” jokes, simply bringing up a point made to me the other day by Aspen High School boys basketball coach Alex Schrempf. Essentially, it’s been a few years since AHS stood much of a chance come postseason play, likely going back to the 2013-14 season when the team finished 19-5 in what would end up being coach Steven Ketchum’s final squad.

But this year feels different. Aspen (12-8 overall), seeded No. 7, plays at No. 2 seed Coal Ridge (14-5) in the quarterfinals of the Class 3A Western Slope League district tournament at 6 p.m. on Tuesday. The Skiers are certainly the underdogs with their season on the line, but for the first time in a handful of years it feels like they might actually have a chance.

The last time the two teams met in district play was in 2017, Schrempf’s first season as head coach, when the Titans rolled to a 77-31 win. In 2018, AHS lost as the No. 9 seed to No. 8 seed Cedaredge in the district pigtail game, 55-47. In 2019, AHS crushed Basalt in the district pigtail game, 70-43, before losing to No. 1 seed Delta, 72-23. Aspen hasn’t been to the state tournament since Ketchum’s final season.

The 2020 squad, led by seniors Jonathan Woodrow and Aidan Ledingham, not to mention a trio of talented underclassmen in Taylor Akin, Lucas Lee and Braden Korpela, probably won’t get there, either, a feat that would require making the district championship game.

Then again, AHS only lost to Coal Ridge 66-58 on Feb. 14, their only meeting this season, when the Skiers were still far from complete. Barring No. 6 Roaring Fork (5-14) pulling off the upset, the semifinal game would come against No. 3 seed Grand Valley (12-7), a team Aspen beat, 45-40, on Jan. 25. Look at it that way and suddenly the Skiers playing for the district title doesn’t sound so crazy.

BASALT GIRLS HEAD TO CEDAREDGE

Also Tuesday night, the Basalt High School girls basketball team, seeded No. 7, will travel to No. 2 Cedaredge (16-3) in the district quarterfinals (again a 6 p.m. tip). BHS (9-9) has won more games this season since that 2007-08 team went 23-4 and made the state quarterfinals.

However, beating the Bruins will be no small task. In their lone meeting this season on Jan. 31, Cedaredge beat Basalt, 49-20, after jumping out to 29-8 halftime lead. The Bruins have developed one of the best girls basketball programs on the Western Slope and like No. 1 seed Delta — assuming those two teams make the district championship game — will be a handful for anyone come the state tournament.

ASPEN HOCKEY MAKES PLAYOFFS

In what has been a tough season for Aspen High hockey, there still is everything to play for. AHS (3-10-4 overall) made the 24-team state tournament as the No. 23 seed and will play Wednesday at No. 10 Ralston Valley (12-7) in the first round. Game time is scheduled for 2:45 p.m. at the Apex Center in Arvada. The winner plays No. 7 Doherty on Friday.

The teams haven’t played since the 2017-18 season, when No. 11 Aspen beat No. 22 Ralston Valley in the first round of the state playoffs, 6-3. AHS made the quarterfinals that season, losing to eventual state runner-up Valor Christian.

Ralston Valley has twice won the state championship, the latest coming in 2014. Aspen’s lone state championship in hockey came in 2007.

LET’S SKI

This Thursday and Friday are the state skiing championships, where Aspen will be looking for a three-peat on the boys’ side. The girls last won in 2018 before finishing as state runner-up last winter.

Beaver Creek is hosting the alpine events while Maloit Park in Minturn will host the nordic events. Battle Mountain High School in Edwards will be the main race hub and host the awards dinner.

Aspen should without question be among the favorites to win another state championship in either gender. They are the Skiers, after all.

WRESTLING IS A WRAP

In case you missed it, Basalt senior Ernesto Lopez finished fourth at state wrestling in Class 3A’s heavyweight division over the weekend. I wanted to give Erny one final shout out for an incredible career at BHS, highlighted by his dominant play on the football field (he signed with Western Colorado University for football). I’m guessing his Longhorn athletic career is a wrap, as he usually plays rugby in the spring for the Junior Gents.

ABOUT MICHAEL GLEN

If anyone deserves a shout out, I’d say Michael Glen is on that list. The former Basalt basketball standout surpassed 1,000 career points with the Colorado School of Mines men’s basketball program Friday, a 79-43 win over Black Hills State.

Glen, a junior, now has 1,018 career points in 90 career games (he’s started 89 of those), an average of 11.3 points per game. The Orediggers are 19-9 overall this season and 15-6 in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference with their regular-season finale coming Friday at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs.

Note: This will be my final Prep Playbook column of the winter season. It’ll return next month after a short hiatus. Believe it or not, spring sports practices officially start Monday.

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Preps: Aspen boys basketball clobbers Cedaredge in district opener, 70-35

The fun is back.

With reserve players coming off the bench late and making buckets, the veteran players cheering from the sideline as the clock melted away, it was quite the joyous occasion for an Aspen High School boys basketball team that has been through a lot of ups and downs — probably more downs — in recent years.

But Saturday in their Class 3A district play-in game, the Skiers rolled to a 70-35 rout of visiting Cedaredge inside the AHS gymnasium, a win that keeps their season alive for at least a few more days.

“That was pretty incredible,” AHS senior reserve Sloan Hamill said. “The crowd was into it and we got all five seniors in at the last moment. To double their points and get up to 70 was pretty incredible. I don’t think we’ve had that big of a win in a while.”

Aspen and Cedaredge split their two regular-season meetings. AHS won 66-45 in a non-league home game on Jan. 17 before losing 53-39 on Feb. 11 in Cedaredge in what was the lone league win for the Bruins this season. That defeat came amid Aspen’s four-game slide when it was missing a handful of key players because of injury.

Saturday’s grudge match wasn’t overly competitive, with AHS leading 13-6 after a quarter and 33-20 at halftime. The second half was a complete rout by the Skiers, who were aggressive both on the offensive boards and on the defensive side of the court. The Bruins struggled to gain any consistency on offense and allowed numerous second-chance points.

“We’ve had our ups and downs, but it’s a testament to these guys’ togetherness and how they all care,” fourth-year AHS coach Alex Schrempf said. “As we started learning our lessons during the stretch of that season and figuring out what we have to change, they found it and took ownership on their part. I couldn’t be more proud.”

While the five seniors stole the show in the end, Aspen’s offensive prowess was sparked by freshman Taylor Akin, who led all players with 19 points. Senior Jonathan Woodrow (12 points), sophomore Braden Korpela (11) and senior Aidan Ledingham (10) also reached double figures.

Hamill finished with three points, Jack Seamans had two points and Jon Haisfield a single point, meaning all five AHS seniors recorded points in what was likely the final home game of their careers.

“We love to get in as many people as we can. It was great to have the opportunity to do that,” said Haisfield, who missed a handful of games this season because of injury. “I’m just happy to be back out there again. It was definitely good to have our team healthy again. We’ve been putting in work all week and all the weeks prior leading up to this game. I think it all paid off.”

Cedaredge, which was the 10 seed in the 10-team district tournament, finishes the season 4-16 overall. Aspen, the No. 7 seed, improved to 12-8 overall and will face No. 2 seed Coal Ridge (14-5) in the district quarterfinals on Tuesday in New Castle.

The teams played once earlier this season, the Titans winning 66-58 at home on Feb. 14, the final game of Aspen’s four-game skid.

“All credit goes to these boys and how they are coming together. They trusted that process and now they are playing well,” Schrempf said with an eye on Tuesday’s game with Coal Ridge. “They play good basketball together. But that’s what we do, too. I think it’s wide open. I think we can surprise some people if we show up the right way and that’s what we are going to keep working toward.”

BASALT BOYS FALL TO OLATHE

The Basalt High School boys basketball team had its season come to an end Saturday with a 55-48 home loss to Olathe in their district pigtail game. The teams had played as recently as Feb. 14, the Longhorns rolling to a 60-38 win that day.

The rematch was much closer, with Olathe leading most of the way. The Pirates took a 24-21 edge into the halftime break and led 39-35 going into the fourth quarter and did enough to hold on for the win.

Basalt, the No. 8 seed, finishes the first season under coach Clint Hunter with a 4-15 overall record. Olathe, the No. 9 seed, improved to 4-16 overall and will play in the district quarterfinals at No. 1 seed Gunnison.

BASALT GIRLS TAKE CARE OF ASPEN

The Basalt girls basketball team cruised to a 62-22 win over visiting Aspen on Saturday afternoon to kickoff district play. BHS finished the season 3-0 against the Skiers, including Thursday’s 49-14 rout in the regular-season finale.

Aspen, the No. 10 seed, closes out the winter with a 3-17 overall record.

Basalt, the No. 7 seed, improved to 9-9 overall and will play in the district quarterfinals at No. 2 Cedaredge (16-3) on Tuesday. In their lone meeting this season back on Jan. 31, the Bruins beat the Longhorns, 49-20, in Cedaredge.

BASALt’s Ernesto Lopez finishes fourth at 3A state wrestling

Basalt High School senior Ernesto Lopez wrapped up his Longhorn wrestling career Saturday by finishing fourth at the state tournament inside the Pepsi Center in Denver.

Competing in Class 3A’s heavyweight division, Lopez advanced to the third-place match before losing to Lamar’s Sy Spitz (fall, 0:18). Lopez, who will play football at Western Colorado University, won his opening-round match Thursday before falling in the quarterfinals on Friday. He answered back by winning three matches on the backside of the bracket.

Competing in the 170-pound division, Basalt junior Ruben Samuelson — a Roaring Fork High School student — also lost in Friday’s quarterfinals before winning a single match in the playbacks. He ultimately lost in the playback quarterfinals.

AHS hockey closes season with DRAW at Glenwood

The Aspen High School hockey team closed out its regular season Saturday at Glenwood Springs, a game that ended in a 3-3 tie. The Skiers finished the season 3-10-4 overall and now will await their postseason fate.

The team was right on the bubble for making the state tournament bracket, which could come out as soon as Sunday.

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Preps: Aspen boys basketball hosting Cedaredge Saturday in playoffs

After winning 10 of 12 games during the heart of the season, the Aspen High School boys basketball team hit a wall. It started with a surprising 33-24 loss to Roaring Fork on Feb. 1, followed by a 59-45 loss at Moffat County, a 53-39 loss at Cedaredge and a 66-58 loss at Coal Ridge.

A 60-51 win at Delta on Feb. 15 in their last official regular-season game got the Skiers out of their funk.

“You see our record and you see that slump we went through with those four losses and that loss, against Coal Ridge, was finally our first uptick in two weeks up to that point,” AHS coach Alex Schrempf said following Thursday’s win over Basalt.

After dispatching the Longhorns on Thursday, a game that won’t officially go on the records because of an overscheduling mistake on Aspen’s part, AHS now enters the postseason looking to start a new winning streak. As the No. 7 seed in the district tournament, Aspen (11-8) will host No. 10 Cedaredge (4-15) at 2 p.m. Saturday inside the AHS gymnasium.

The Bruins’ lone league win this season was that Feb. 11 win over AHS during the Skiers’ four-game skid. However, Aspen also hosted Cedaredge on Jan. 17 in a non-league contest, cruising to a 66-45 win.

Meaning it’s anyone’s guess on what happens Saturday.

“We made it our goal this season to have a winning season,” AHS senior Aidan Ledingham said Thursday after rolling Basalt. “Confidence is good, but we can’t underestimate any team. We just got to come in there and play 100% like we did today.”

The winner of Saturday’s game between Aspen and Cedaredge will advance to the district quarterfinal, likely to be played Tuesday, against No. 2 seed Coal Ridge (14-5). The Titans will host that game.

The tournament’s No. 1 seed, Gunnison, will await the winner of Saturday’s other play-in game between No. 9 Olathe (3-16) and No. 8 Basalt (4-14). The Longhorns will host that game, scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Saturday inside the BHS gymnasium.

BHS and Olathe played as recently as Feb. 14, Basalt cruising to a 60-38 win.

No. 5 Delta at No. 4 Moffat County and No. 6 Roaring Fork at No. 3 Grand Valley will make up the other two district quarterfinal games next week.

BASALT GIRLS basketball TO HOST ASPEN SATURDAY at 1 PM

It’ll be Round 3 between the Basalt girls basketball team and Aspen on Saturday. As the No. 7 seed in the district tournament, BHS (8-9) will host No. 10 AHS (3-16) at 1 p.m. in Basalt. The Longhorns won 49-14 when the teams played Thursday in Aspen; BHS also won 52-21 on Jan. 28 in Basalt.

The Longhorn girls also hosted Aspen in the district play-in game last season, winning 44-12.

The winner on Saturday will move on to face No. 2 Cedaredge in the district quarterfinals. No. 8 Olathe and No. 9 Gunnison is the other play-in game, with the winner moving on to face No. 1 Delta.

The other girls district quarterfinal games are No. 4 Roaring Fork against No. 5 Coal Ridge and No. 3 Grand Valley against No. 6 Moffat County.

BASALT WRESTLERS FALL IN STATE QUARTERFINALS

The title dreams ended Friday for both of Basalt High School’s wrestlers at the Class 3A state tournament at the Pepsi Center in Denver.

Senior heavyweight Ernesto Lopez, who needed only 38 seconds to pin his opening-round opponent on Thursday, lost to Eaton’s Tanner True (fall, 4:57) in the quarterfinals.

Lopez did bounce back in the playbacks by beating James Irwin’s Kyle Good (fall, 2:19) to keep his podium hopes alive.

At 170 pounds, Basalt junior Ruben Samuelson — who attends Roaring Fork High School — lost in the quarterfinals to Woodland Park’s Cole Gray (fall, 3:08). Samuelson also answered by beating Elizabeth’s Koby Ullery (fall, 0:31) in the playbacks.

The state tournament will conclude Saturday.

ASPEN HOCKEY HEADS TO GLENWOOD SPRINGS FOR SATURDAY’S FINALE

The Aspen High School hockey team will close out its regular season Saturday night with a 7 p.m. game at Glenwood Springs (11-5-2). The teams met once earlier this season, AHS winning 4-3 on Jan. 10 in Aspen.

At 3-10-3 overall, the Skiers are sitting right on the bubble of making the state playoff bracket, which is expected out Sunday or Monday.

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Aspen boys basketball beats Basalt in regular-season finale; BHS girls also roll

The Aspen High School boys basketball team won a combined 11 games the past two seasons as head coach Alex Schrempf and assistant Cory Parker tried to rebuild a program that was once so mighty under former coach Steve Ketchum.

With 11 wins alone this season, it seems the Skiers may have finally turned a corner.

“It’s been a lot of ups and downs through the seasons,” AHS senior Aidan Ledingham said. “Coach Cory and coach Alex and all the coaches have done such a great job of building this program and getting that sense of power and sense of ‘we are going to win games’ this season.”

Aspen capped off its regular season Thursday night with a 68-41 win over rival Basalt inside the AHS gymnasium. The win secured the No. 7 seed in the district tournament for Aspen (11-8, 4-5 Western Slope League), which will likely host No. 10 Cedaredge (4-15, 1-8) on Saturday afternoon to get the postseason started.

“Now they are going out there and fighting. If they do that, in this league anybody can beat anybody,” Schrempf said. “We got ourselves a challenge ahead, but every single game is winnable for any one of these teams.”

Aspen’s win Thursday over Basalt (4-14, 3-5 WSL) won’t officially make it into the record books. The game was considered a “foundation” game due to an overscheduling error on Aspen’s part; teams are only allowed to play 19 regular-season contests. Had BHS won Thursday, the result would have replaced Aspen’s 54-48 win at Basalt from earlier in the season.

As it happened Thursday, Aspen’s first win will remain official. Basalt will enter the district tournament as the No. 8 seed and likely host No. 9 Olathe (3-16, 1-8) on Saturday afternoon. Olathe beat Cedaredge on Thursday night, 49-43, to earn the 9 seed.

“Coach always says our best basketball comes in late February, and we are there right now. It’s exciting to be here and we’re definitely playing the best we have,” AHS senior Jonathan Woodrow said. “We just kept our energy high, didn’t get down at all. We are really starting to play as a team and together and ultimately we are just having fun.”

Woodrow led all players in scoring Thursday with 24 points, while Ledingham added 20. Basalt’s Wish Moore finished with 19 to lead the Longhorns.

BASALT GIRLS 49, ASPEN 14

In the girls game Thursday night, Basalt rolled to a 49-14 win over Aspen to close out its regular season. Unlike the boys game, this game did officially count toward each team’s record.

The Longhorns (8-9, 3-6 WSL) head into the district tournament as the No. 7 seed and will once again face Aspen (3-16, 0-9), the No. 10 seed, on Saturday afternoon in Basalt. Olathe and Gunnison are the No. 8 and 9 seeds, respectively.

“Excited for the challenges that are going to come with the playoffs. I’m excited to see some teams again and hopefully play better against them,” second-year BHS coach Amy Contini said. “It’s been an up-and-down season, but what you haven’t seen is these girls have remained positive the whole way through.”

The eight wins are the most for Basalt since the team went 23-4 in 2007-08, according to the MaxPreps records.

“I would just say the big thing is our team is always keeping positive after a hard loss,” BHS senior Taylor Glen said. “Even if we lose three games in a row, we really stay positive.”

Lopez, Samuelson both move on for Basalt wrestling at state tournament

The Basalt High School wrestling team had both its athletes cruise through first-round matches on Thursday, the opening day of the Class 3A state tournament at the Pepsi Center in Denver.

Senior heavyweight Ernesto Lopez needed only 38 seconds to pin La Junta’s Ryan Metzger (8-16) to move onto Friday’s quarterfinals. Lopez (30-3), who won his regional tournament, will face Eaton’s Tanner True (39-6) in the next round.

At 170 pounds, Basalt junior Ruben Samuelson won via a 12-3 major decision over Jefferson’s Randy Duran (31-9) on Thursday. Samuelson (38-1), whose lone loss this season came in the regional final, will face Woodland Park’s Cole Gray (28-2) in Friday’s quarterfinal matchup.

acolbert@aspentimes.com