Aspen and Basalt haven’t played a high school boys soccer game in August since 2014, a 6-1 win for the Skiers. But with a new season here and a new turf to break in, it seems a fitting time to have the rivals again square off right out of the gate.
“The first game, being on the new turf and stuff, I think it’s great that it’s against Basalt,” AHS senior Lander Greenway said. “To start the new turf off with a win against Basalt would definitely be a big win.”
In the non-league season opener for both teams, Aspen will host Basalt at 6 p.m. Thursday in the first varsity game on the Aspen School District’s new state-of-the-art playing field. Junior varsity will play first at 4 p.m.
The new playing surface feels much closer to a traditional grass field, meaning it won’t have the same speed or bounce as the old turf. This could be beneficial for Basalt, which plays its home games on natural grass. Still, BHS coach Brent Hayes expects the field to be a major wild card in Thursday’s opener.
“It should be super fun. We are both in the same boat,” Hayes said of the early-season start and unfamiliar field. “It’s always a great match. It’s hard to win up there. No clue what this new turf is going to be like.”
SKIERS HOPE FOR PLAYOFF RETURN
Aspen is coming off a 6-9 season in which it finished 3-4 in the Class 3A Western Slope League. The Skiers snuck into the state playoffs — ending a two-year postseason drought — as the No. 31 seed. They lost to No. 2 seed and eventual state champion Kent Denver in the first round.
The highlight of the 2018 season was a two-game sweep of rival Basalt. This included a 6-1 rout of the Longhorns in the second game.
“This group, I’d say compared to last year, is just overall a much tighter group and not so many different little groups within,” AHS senior Jake Bozza said. “We are kind of just one big team.”
Bozza and Greenway are two of the four captains — along with senior Jose Medrano-Gomez and junior Wesley Ferrell — that are trying to fill the void of a sizable senior class lost from a season ago. They will have help from what so far has been an impressive looking group of underclassmen.
“They look good. We’ve got a good bunch of committed guys who have been there everyday through two-a-days,” AHS coach Dave Francis said. “We’ve got a core group of guys who we expected to be up there, and then there is a bunch of younger guys who are making a very good claim to get some playing time on varsity. And even a couple of the freshmen guys are really showing some good things.”
With experiential education being next week for Aspen, the Skiers have a sizable gap between games one and two this fall. After Basalt on Thursday, Aspen won’t play again until going to Monarch on Sept. 14.
For this reason, Francis doesn’t want to get overly technical against the Longhorns. It’s mostly about finding a way to win.
“We’ve got a big gap. It’s almost like a complete reset. We are basically training for one game and then we start again,” Francis said. “Don’t overcomplicate it. Don’t try anything new. Go through the things you are used to. Get them up to speed on the basics and just try and go out and start with a win.”
LONGHORNS EYE WSL CROWN
Basalt’s 2018 season was rough to start. The Longhorns limped out to a 1-5 record but caught fire later in the season to finish 7-9 overall and make the state tournament as the No. 26 seed. BHS lost to No. 7 Faith Christian in the first round.
The Longhorns went 5-2 in WSL play a year ago to finish third behind league champion Roaring Fork and runner-up Delta. BHS actually beat Roaring Fork in their lone league matchup, but losses to Delta and Aspen kept them out of the top spot.
“We have a lot more potential than we’ve had in a few years. The issue with us is always going to be one injury is huge,” Hayes said, noting the team has plenty of experience and talent, but not much depth this season. “I’d like to think we are in the hunt for the top of the league, seeing that we came within a game last year and we’ve got a little more experience this year. It should be good. But we are thin.”
Basalt’s early-season schedule is downright brutal, so it’ll get tested early and often. After Aspen, the Longhorns host preseason No. 5 Roaring Fork on Aug. 30. Then they travel to longtime WSL powerhouse Coal Ridge on Sept. 3 and will play at preseason No. 1 Kent Denver on Sept. 6.
“It’s a fun group and I think they are expecting a lot out of themselves,” Hayes said. “The boys are getting excited and I’m getting excited. Just kind of blast off and just go a million miles an hour for a number of weeks and see what happens.”