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Aspen High boys soccer takes on Basalt in season opener on new turf

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.”

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Steamboat Springs boys tennis team faces major changes in 2019

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The 2019 season will be one for transitioning and rebuilding for the Steamboat Springs High School boys tennis team.

In 2018, four Sailors qualified for state, two of which were expected to return this year.

Senior Gabe Rabanal would be back in the No. 1 doubles pairing, and sophomore Andy Schuiling would look to improve on his fifth-place finish at state from the No. 1 singles spot.

Unfortunately for the Sailors, neither will play for the team.

Bill Conway, in his second season as head coach, will lead a very young team willing to learn and improve.

“We’ve always tried to create a great culture and these kids are 100% bought in to the culture of working hard,” Conway said. “The effort and the attitude that I always preach is if you control your effort and your attitude, the match will take care of itself. These guys are 100% in.

“It’s going to be a fun season because they’re going to be a very different team at the end of it.”

While a lot is uncertain for the team, it’s official that senior Wyatt Stempel is taking over as the No. 1 singles player. Stempel didn’t play tennis last year while at a boarding school in Utah.

As for No. 2, Conway says it’s a battle between Gabe Gray, Kyle Saunders and Xander Dalke, all freshmen.

“I think (it’s a) mental game; being able to keep it cool,” Stempel said of his strength. “And being able to stay in the present.”

As a senior, Stempel expects to take on a leadership position on the team.

“There’s a lot of new kids and I’ve been playing for six or seven years, I’m just kind of welcoming everybody in,” Stempel said.

Although Joey Westermeyer is another senior, he won’t have the same upperclassman authority as Stempel, since he had never picked up a racket until a few weeks ago.

“I was a soccer guy, then I got a couple concussions,” Westermeyer said. “I decided soccer was a little too risky for me at this point and tennis seemed like a really fun sport, so I thought I’d pick up a racket and I’m loving it.”

Westmeyer said he already feels like part of the team, which begins its season Thursday in Montrose.

“The team’s awesome, honestly. They’re so much fun to hang out with,” Westmeyer said. “The coach, Bill, he’s just absolutely amazing, especially with new people. He helps you with whatever you want to do.”

The rest of the team is young, but came up through the junior program. Their familiarity with the game and each other could be an asset, especially in doubles play.

“We got a good group. They know the strokes, they know those things. It’ll be the first time they face you-need-to-win pressure, rather than let’s have fun about it. It’ll be real interesting to see,” Conway said.

Conway doesn’t want the youthful, inexperienced group putting pressure on themselves by thinking about the prospect of going to state.

“Our goal right now is to be a better team each day. How do we improve daily? We’re not gonna worry about the last match, we’re gonna worry about what we do the next day,” he said. “That’s not just in tennis. That’s, are we a good sport, do we make the right line calls. It’s just life in general.

“I want them to be better people and players at the end of the season.”

sreardon@steamboatpilot.com

Colbert’s Prep Playbook: Five teams or individuals that could impress this fall

The best part about the brief window between the first practice and the first game is the universal optimism. Nobody has lost yet and everyone — hopefully — has some belief that this could be their year.

Of course, reality will set in soon enough. For some, it may be harsh. But for the chosen few, all those dreams and ambitions from the preseason might actually come to fruition.

In this week’s Prep Playbook, I list my top five high school individuals or teams from Aspen to Basalt that I feel have the best chance to be truly special this fall season.

1. Jack Pevny, AHS boys golf

A big question entering 2019 is what the Aspen boys golf team has in store for an encore. The Skiers won the 3A state championship as a team last fall, the first in program history, but a repeat performance seems unlikely considering all the talent they graduated.

However, senior Jack Pevny has the potential to become the school’s first individual state champion in golf. As a junior, he opened the state tournament at Boulder Country Club by shooting 68, leaving him in third after Day 1. He limped to a 76 in the final round, but still finished tied for fourth overall and only five back of state champion Jackson Klutznick of Kent Denver.

Klutznick graduated, as did Aspen’s Jack Hughes, the state runner-up. Pevny’s toughest competition might be Peak to Peak senior Davis Long, who won the 2017 state title as a sophomore. Long finished third in 2018, finishing a shot ahead of Pevny.

2. Sierra Bower, BHS cross country

Sierra Bower will be gunning for that state title this fall. The Basalt junior really broke out when she won the 2018 regional, hosted by AHS at Aspen Golf Club. She only finished 24th at state (20 minutes, 12 seconds), but that was an 11-second and 11-place improvement over what she did as a freshman at state.

What really gets you excited about Bower is what she did at state track in the spring, finishing second in 3A in the 3,200-meter run. She lost by a mere 0.31 seconds in a sprint finish to Classical Academy senior Kaylee Thompson. Now, going from 24th to the top spot at the state cross country meet might be tough, but Bower seems to take a big step each running season, so it’s not crazy talk.

3. AHS girls cross country

Speaking of cross country, the Aspen girls should be pretty solid. While Basalt is more or less focused on Bower — she was their lone state qualifier in 2018 — the AHS girls have strength in numbers. I’m not sure if they have a legitimate individual title contender, although juniors Kylie Kenny and Kendall Clark could have some say.

Now, a team championship might still be a stretch for the AHS girls, but I don’t see why they shouldn’t dare to dream. They finished seventh as a team last fall and didn’t lose a single runner because of graduation (I assume they are all back this season, but I can’t yet confirm such a thing). In fact, their top six finishers were all underclassmen last fall. Kenny finished 17th overall in 19:55.2, beating even regional champion Bower. Clark was 33rd overall (20:30.4) and Macy Hopkinson, who also was a sophomore, was 56th overall (21:17.5).

Even a slight improvement from each runner could vault the AHS girls into the top five teams at state. Anything on top of that and we enter that dare to dream situation.

4. AHS football

The Aspen football team was a pleasant surprise last fall, going 6-4 and making a run at the league title. With junior quarterback Tyler Ward back under center and coach Travis Benson and company again in charge, the preseason hype is certainly more noticeable this fall. In fact, the Skiers are ranked preseason No. 9 in Class 2A by CHSAANow.com.

The hype is mostly about Ward, who led all of 2A in passing as a sophomore with 2,202 yards. He threw for 26 touchdowns with only eight interceptions. AHS also returns senior receiver Max Ufkes, who led all of 2A with 920 yards to go with his 10 touchdown grabs. So I’m guessing the offense will be pretty good again this fall.

The sky is the limit for Aspen football in 2019. About the only reason to be negative is a brutal schedule. They play in the same league as preseason No. 5 Rifle and preseason No. 7 Delta. Basalt, which is reloading somewhat but has basically owned Aspen in recent years, is effectively No. 11. Not to mention the Skiers open the season Sept. 7 against 2017 state champion Bayfield.

5. AHS boyS tennis

Much like with AHS girls cross country, the Aspen boys tennis team brought back nearly its entire roster from what had been a strong season in 2018, so they are certainly on this list. Gone is graduate Alex Ilic, who played No. 1 singles a year ago, but that’s about the only subtraction.

The Skiers rolled over Durango in their lone meet so far this season, winning 7-0. They don’t play again for a couple of weeks. Coach Steve Sand made it clear the lineup from that match is still fluid going forward, but it gives us a starting point. Christian Kelly played at No. 1 singles, with Alex Mosher playing No. 2 and Lukee Tralins No. 3. All three are juniors this season and return with state experience.

The Skiers sent all 11 players to the 4A state tournament last fall, finishing seventh as a team. Most of their points came from the doubles teams. With experience and depth looking pretty solid in 2019, a top-five finish at state should be a reasonable goal, if not something more.

Note: There will be no Prep Playbook next week because of experiential education. If the kids are going to take a week off, then so will I. The column will return Sept. 3 when the prep season really gets going.

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Young Aspen High softball team looks to move on from losing streak

The best part about the Aspen High School softball team having so many young players is most of them don’t know much about the program’s recent history. At least, that’s how coach Dave Fuentes sees it.

“I don’t think it even matters to this group,” the fifth-year head coach said. “The returning girls know that we can win, so hopefully they can build on that with the rest of the girls. I think the underclassmen, the new players, aren’t really aware of the situation in terms of breaking that streak.”

The upperclassmen certainly know of the streak, as they were part of breaking it. The losing streak wasn’t counted in terms of games, but in terms of years. On Sept. 17, 2018, the Skiers beat Gunnison 19-18 on a random Monday in Delta. That win, the only win of the 2018 season for Aspen, was the program’s first since the 2009 season.

It was a feeling that group knew nothing about and had long sought.

“It was amazing. The rush of being so close to winning and finally getting it was awesome,” AHS senior Sami Jaworski recalled during Thursday’s practice. “I feel pretty good. We lost quite a few people last season, but we’ve got some new recruits. … I would love to win some more games.”

The Skiers, who open their 2019 season on Saturday, have a lot to replace. They had eight seniors officially listed on last year’s roster, including starting pitcher Lexi Ferlisi and catcher Kaelin Harris. The only seniors on the roster this fall are Jaworski and Laney Martens, who look to fill those roles. Jaworski, a standout hockey goalie, will fill in behind the plate, while Martens moves from shortstop to the circle.

“It’s a big responsibility. I just hope that we lead them in the right direction,” Martens said of her new role as senior pitcher. “In this program it’s not (about) winning and losing, it’s about getting better every single day. And knowing that half these girls out here have never played ball before, it’s a nice, humbling thing to know we are coming out here from the bottom and we have to work our way up.”

While the team isn’t heavy on senior leadership, it does have some promising younger players. Hannah Popish, Nikki Harris and Lauren Kelley, all sophomores, have at least some varsity experience to lean on from last year and should mix well with the new freshmen.

“The good news is we have a really energetic bunch of freshmen. Our senior leadership is really stepping up and helping guide them, so that’s fun to see,” Fuentes said. “We’ve made a lot of progress in three days. We have a long way to go, but it’s fun to have some fresh perspective out here.”

The Skiers open the season Saturday with a doubleheader in Grand Junction against Durango, a team that went 10-13 a year ago but does have a new coach.

AHS will then host a doubleheader on Tuesday against Delta, which is ranked preseason No. 4 in Class 3A by CHSAANow.com.

The dream this season is for the upperclassmen to build off last season’s streak-ending win, while the younger players can rewrite a new legacy for the program.

“It was definitely a highlight of my career and probably of high school, as well. I wrote my senior speech about softball,” said Ferlisi, who was helping coach the team this week before she heads to California to restart her academic career at Chapman University. “I hope they can get a few wins under their belt and show us up a little. They are definitely better than we were as freshmen, so there is hope.”

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Aspen High boys golf struggles some in tournaments at Cherry Creek, Kent Denver

The Aspen High School boys golf team competed for the third time on Wednesday at the Sun Devil Invitational, hosted by Kent Denver at Saddle Rock Golf Course in Aurora.

Aspen senior Jack Pevny led the Skiers by shooting 7-over 79 to finish in a tie for 14th. Will Stiller and Jake Doyle each shot 14-over 86 to finish tied for 33rd, while Cole Kennedy shot 21-over 93 to tie for 54th.

Kent Denver’s Jeffrey Zhou and Lakewood’s Max Lange each led the field by shooting even par 72.

Lakewood won the team title with a collective 10-over 226, beating Arapahoe by two shots and Montrose by six. Kent Denver was fourth, while Aspen was 10th with a three-person combined score of 251.

The Skiers also competed Tuesday, playing at the Cherry Creek Invitational at Buffalo Run Golf Course in Commerce City. Aspen finished in a tie for 11th place with a collective 242. Montrose won the tournament by 12 strokes over Mullen, with Fairview taking third.

Jordan Jennings of Montrose won the individual title by a stroke over teammate Ryan Lords. Jennings shot 5-under 67. Pevny led the Skiers, tying for 24th after shooting 4-over 76 in his first high school tournament of the fall.

Doyle (T50, 82) and Kennedy (T57, 84) were the other scoring players for Aspen in Cherry Creek.

Pevny’s younger brother, sophomore Nic Pevny, did not compete in either of the Denver tournaments this week after winning the season-opening tournament at Battlement Mesa on Aug. 9.

Aspen next is scheduled to play Monday at Fruita. Monday also is the first day of classes at the high school.

The Skiers are the defending 3A state champions.

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Colbert’s Prep Playbook: Do you remember 2018? Me neither.

They say summer is short in the mountains. The fact that practice started Monday for fall high school sports certainly brings home that reality.

With the prep season basically here, I figure this is a good time to bring back my weekly Prep Playbook column. It’ll run Tuesdays and be about whatever I feel like talking about that week (although I’m open to suggestions). Keep in mind this is a column, not a news story, so I have the right to get more opinionated than usual.

Since I don’t know a whole lot about this year’s teams yet, let’s use this Prep Playbook to talk about last fall. Below is a quick recap of how each team from Aspen and Basalt did a year ago, to refresh all of our memories. I cover 14 teams (why are there so many?!) in the fall between the two schools, so I’m writing this more for my benefit than anything else. But I’m sure there is something in here that will refresh your memory.

I’m no longer in high school, but I still have to do my homework.

BOYS GOLF

They started first, so they get to go first here. Maybe you don’t remember this, but the AHS golf team was pretty good last year. Like, they won the first state championship in program history good. With a foursome comprised of Jack Hughes, Jack Pevny, Dawson Holmes and Dominic Lanese (with a shoutout to Colter Zwieg), the team cruised to the 3A state title at Boulder Country Club, winning by nine strokes over mighty Kent Denver. Hughes was state runner-up, Pevny was fourth and Holmes 13th. Sadly, only Pevny is back this fall after the rest graduated.

Basalt, under first-year coach Joseph Fries, finished a solid sixth in 3A last fall. They weren’t remotely in the same league as Aspen, but really nobody was. Holden Kleager did the best of any Longhorn, finishing tied for 16th overall at state. Young Tyler Sims, then only a sophomore, tied for 33rd in Boulder alongside teammate Blake Exelbert. Kleager is gone, but Sims and Exelbert are back this season.

BOYS TENNIS

Steve Sand, who also coaches the AHS girls in the spring, took over the boys program last fall and continued on with the same success they’ve had for years. The Skiers sent all 11 players to the 4A state tournament in Pueblo last fall, finishing seventh as a team. Senior Alex Ilic unfortunately ended his career with a first-round loss, but sophomore Christian Kelly got a nice win at No. 2 singles before bowing out. Top to bottom, it was a pretty young team last fall, which bodes well for this season.

The Basalt team did not get anyone to the state tournament last year, but it was their first season. Ever. Brothers Kent and Karl Oliver took the program’s reins in their inaugural season and are back for another go this fall. At some point soon, some Longhorn will become the first to make state in program history. That should be plenty of incentive for anyone to practice hard.

CROSS COUNTRY

The 2018 season was one of the best in recent memory for Aspen cross country. The Skiers sent their boys and girls teams to the state meet after both took third at regionals, which they hosted at Aspen Golf Club. It was the second consecutive appearance at state for the girls team, while the boys made it as a team for the first time since 2013. The boys finished 17th at state behind a senior-laden group, while the much younger girls finished seventh. The top six finishers for the AHS girls were underclassmen a year ago, so dare to dream with the 2019 squad.

Basalt’s team results weren’t quite there at the Aspen regional last fall, meaning pretty much the entire squad had to stay home for the state meet. That exception was rising superstar Sierra Bower, who last fall as a sophomore won the regional en route to a 24th-place finish at state. Bower has done some impressive things since, such as coming in second place at the state track meet in the 2-mile race in a sprint finish. Based on that, Bower should be among the state title favorites this fall in cross country. Also, the Longhorns host regionals this season at Crown Mountain Park.

SOFTBALL

Sept. 17, 2018: The day the streak ended. No, Aspen softball wasn’t all that great last fall, winning a single game all season. But, that win — 19-18 over Gunnison — was the first for AHS softball since the 2009 season. Keep in mind, they didn’t have a team in 2010 or 2011, but still. That’s quite the streak to break. I’d like to say the team can maybe build off that win, but it graduated basically its entire roster from last fall, so the Skiers are more or less starting from scratch again.

Basalt was among the more perplexing teams last year. Plenty of returning talent under first-year coach David Miller, the Longhorns jumped out to a 7-0 record and got as high as No. 8 in 3A in the weekly rankings. Unfortunately, the team went 2-10 down the stretch, including eight straight losses to finish 9-10 overall. It was the classic tale of two teams and your guess is as good as mine on this season.

BOYS SOCCER

Aspen narrowly missed the playoffs in 2016 and 2017 but thanks to a stronger RPI snuck into the 2018 field as the No. 31 seed. Facing No. 2 Kent Denver in the first round, the Skiers lost 4-0 to finish the season 6-9 overall. Kent went on to win yet another state championship. It was by no means a bad year for the Skiers — they did sweep rival Basalt — but also finished in the bottom half of the league. They said goodbye to a lot of senior talent last fall, but should bring back enough to be hopeful for this season.

After going 11-6 in 2016, Basalt had a lot of ups and downs, finishing 5-9-1 in 2017 and 7-9 last fall. However, that 2018 group, which was reasonably dysfunctional at the start, began to look pretty solid by the end of the season. The Longhorns started 1-5 overall — the win a somewhat shocking one over a good KIPP Denver team — before winning six of their next eight games. They made state as the No. 26 seed, losing 2-0 to No. 7 Faith Christian in the first round. Faith was jettisoned a round later by No. 23 The Academy, which Kent Denver destroyed in the quarterfinals.

VOLLEYBALL

After winning 12 games in 2008, the AHS program wouldn’t get to double digits again until going 11-11 in 2016, the final season under Matt Bergdahl. Year 1 under coach Bailey Holmes in 2017 saw a 13-8 record, with everything coming together in 2018 under Holmes. With many experienced seniors, notably the setter-hitter duo of Gaia Murphy and Mary Williams, Aspen went 18-7 overall and finished third in league play. It was one of the best seasons in recent memory for AHS volleyball, and could be tough to duplicate. Former assistant coach Brittany Zanin is now in charge and the team graduated most of its players from last fall, so there might be some growing pains all around in 2019. But there’s a reason we play the games, right?

Basalt’s recent history is somewhat similar to Aspen’s. After going 13-9 in 2008, the Longhorns wouldn’t reach double digits (or even seven wins, for that matter) until a breakthrough 11-12 campaign in 2017 under first-year coaches David Chadbourne and Amy Trautman, who had one of those experienced, senior-laden groups to coach. The 2018 season was a major step back, with BHS going 6-16 with a roster of mostly underclassmen. They did show some spunk, however, and assuming most of those players are back this fall, getting back to double-digit wins might be in reach.

FOOTBALL

Yes, I had a lot of doubts about last year’s AHS team, but I had legit reasons. After back-to-back 2-7 campaigns, Karson Pike turned the Skiers into contenders in his second and final season in 2017, the team going a shocking 8-2 overall. He left for a college job, with AHS grad and former head coach Travis Benson taking over (again) in 2018. Notably missing was longtime quarterback R.J. Peshek, who graduated, so yeah, there was reason to doubt. All the Skiers did was have the defending state champs (Bayfield) on the ropes, stunned eventual league champ Rifle on the road (I still don’t know how they pulled that off) and came within a few plays of winning the league title themselves (Basalt put an end to that dream in the regular-season finale). Aspen finished the season 6-4 and made the playoffs behind an electric offense led by sophomore Tyler Ward and two stud receivers (Max Ufkes and Noah Hollander). Hollander graduated, but the Ward-Ufkes connection should be alive and well again.

All good things must come to an end, like Basalt’s run as league champs. Not that 2018 wasn’t terrific for the Longhorns. Rifle, a 2A WSL newcomer, took the league title from BHS last fall based off its head-to-head win, even though each team finished 4-1 in league play. The 35-14 loss at Rifle was the only loss of the regular season for the Longhorns, which went into the 2A playoffs as the No. 3 seed and hosted a state quarterfinal game for the first time in program history, a 46-9 loss to No. 6 Platte Valley. La Junta beat Platte Valley in the state championship game, 7-3. Basalt finished 9-2 for the second straight season, but graduated a very good QB (Trevor Reuss) and very good RB (Jake Reardon). Still, there is no reason to think the Longhorns aren’t WSL contenders yet again this fall. They’ve earned that respect.

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Aspen boys golf wins first tournament of the season behind Nic Pevny

The Aspen High School boys golf team got its fall season underway Friday by winning the Battlement Mesa Classic, hosted by Grand Junction High School.

Competing for the first time since winning the Class 3A state championship last October at Boulder Country Club, the Skiers shot a combined 26-over-par 242 to win by a single stroke over Fruita Monument. Montrose was third at 31-over and Summit fourth at 43-over.

AHS sophomore Nic Pevny won the tournament by shooting 2-over 74. He won by a stroke over Montrose’s Jordan Jennings, who had won at a tournament at Devil’s Thumb only the day prior, when he shot 65.

Fruita’s Josh Stouder finished third at Battlement Mesa with a 78, while Aspen’s Cole Kennedy was fourth with 80. Aspen’s Will Stiller was the third scoring player for the Skiers, tying for 16th with an 88. Jake Doyle (T18, 89) and Lucas Lee (T28, 94) also competed for Aspen.

Absent was AHS senior Jack Pevny, who should be the team’s undisputed No. 1 player this fall, as he was competing in an American Junior Golf Association event in Oklahoma this week.

The older brother of Nic, Jack is the only returning player from last year’s state championship foursome. He finished fourth at the two-day tournament in Boulder, while teammate Jack Hughes, who signed to play golf at the University of Colorado after graduating last year, finished second.

Aspen also is replacing graduates Dominic Lanese, Dawson Holmes and Colter Zwieg from last year’s “dream team” that brought home the school’s first state title in golf.

The Skiers are next scheduled to compete Tuesday and Wednesday on the Front Range at tournaments hosted by Cherry Creek and Kent Denver. The Skiers tentatively have a home tournament scheduled for Sept. 3 and also will host regionals on Sept. 25 at Aspen Golf Club. The Skiers have won 10 straight regional championships.

The Basalt High School boys golf team didn’t play Friday, having started its season Thursday at Devil’s Thumb. BHS finished fourth behind a ninth-place finish by senior Blake Exelbert and a solid round from junior Tyler Sims, who tied for 11th.

The Longhorns are off until Aug. 21.

The remainder of the fall sports teams will officially begin practice on Monday.

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Basalt High boys golf opens prep season with tournament at Devil’s Thumb

The top two spots are pretty well locked in for the Basalt High School boys golf team this fall, with a solid third close to returning from injury. Should a couple more of the younger players develop, BHS coach Joseph Fries believes this could be a good couple of months for the Longhorns.

“If we can develop a couple of those sophomores I think we’ll be pretty good. I really do,” said Fries, who is in his second season as Basalt’s coach. “We’ll have three bona fide players and hopefully two guys can claim those four and five spots and we’ll be able to make it back to that state tournament.”

Basalt boys golf became the first of the area prep teams to get its fall season underway on Thursday with a tournament at Devil’s Thumb Golf Course near Delta. Official golf practice and tryouts got underway Monday, with Thursday having been the first day for tournaments to be held across the state.

Senior Blake Exelbert shot 6-over-par 78 to lead the Longhorns by tying for ninth place. Junior Tyler Sims finished a shot back in a tie for 11th, while sophomore Adam Gair rounded out the scoring players by shooting 88 to tie for 25th.

Jordan Jennings of Montrose won the tournament by shooting 7-under 65, while his teammate, Micah Stangebye, was second with 67. Montrose won the team title, as well, with Basalt finishing in fourth.

Montrose won the Class 4A state championship last fall (Basalt plays in 3A), while Stangebye is the defending 4A individual state champion.

Fries said Sims, who is the only main varsity player who actually attends BHS (the rest go to Glenwood Springs High School), and Exelbert are clearly the team’s top two players entering the season.

“Tyler embraces the one spot a little more than Blake does. I might just leave it up to them, but they are either-or,” Fries said. “Blake is so steady. You can almost guarantee that he’ll have something — low 80s at worst. And Tyler is the same way. They are just really consistent.”

Sims and Exelbert are the only returners of Basalt’s four-man state team that finished sixth as a group last October at Boulder Country Club. Gone are graduates Holden Kleager, who led BHS by finishing tied for 16th at state, and Tyler Dollahan. Sims and Exelbert each shot 164 combined over two rounds at state last fall to finish tied for 33rd.

Throw in junior Kyle Murray, who is returning from injury and is expected to be the No. 3 varsity player this fall, and the potential of underclassmen like Gair, sophomore Braden Exelbert and even freshman Cooper Robinson, and Fries sees the making of another strong team.

“I was really impressed with Adam’s 88, having it be his first real tournament,” Fries said. “Especially as a sophomore, he’s come so far since last year. I’m really optimistic about him. And Kyle Murray, who played a lot of varsity for us last year, he’s a little banged up to start the year. So we’ll have him coming in in a few weeks.”

Fries decided to focus most of the tournaments on the back half of the schedule this season, so the Longhorns won’t compete again until Aug. 21, a couple of days after classes get underway. This will give the team plenty of time to practice at River Valley Ranch in Carbondale, which has replaced Ironbridge Golf Club as its home course this fall.

“RVR has kind of opened their arms to us, which has really helped us out early in the year,” Fries said. “We’ve gotten a lot of practice in and they’ve just been really awesome for us.”

The Aspen High School boys golf team opens its season Friday with a tournament at Battlement Mesa near Parachute. The Skiers are coming off their first state championship, having won the 3A team title in Boulder last fall. AHS did graduate most of that team, however, with only senior Jack Pevny back from the group that played in the state tournament.

The rest of the fall sports teams officially begin practice Monday.

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Former Demon standout volleyball player Leah Hinkey returns home for camps in Glenwood, Aspen

Growing up in the Roaring Fork Valley, 2006 Glenwood Springs High School graduate Leah Hinkey had to travel nearly four hours a day to get a high-level volleyball experience on the Front Range.

More than 15 years later, Hinkey — a former standout at the University of Tennessee in the SEC, a professional beach volleyball player in California, and a pro overseas in Italy, Portugal, and Croatia — is set to return to the valley in early August to put on two seperate high-level volleyball clinics at GSHS and Aspen High School through her volleyball training program, VIBE Volleyball.

Despite having to drive nearly 4 hours each day for the volleyball exprience that she wanted, Hinkey fell in love with the sport of volleyball once she reached high school. It grabbed her attention right away and set her on the path she’s currently on: living in El Segundo training aspiring volleyball players through her own training facility she founded with a friend after years of playing professional.

“I just loved playing all sports, but once I got into high school and had a bigger opportunity, that’s when I really started falling in love with the sport,” Hinkey said. “There definitely wasn’t much to offer in the valley, in terms of volleyball, when I was growing up. I had to drive nearly 4 hours for practice for a club team that I played for.

“That club found me and recruited me to come play for them. While the travel was tough, I’m really grateful that I did; it was a great opportunity for me.

“The valley has definitely grown, in terms of volleyball, but it hasn’t grown to the extent that I think it could. So, that said, we’re excited to come back and give back some to the community and give them a glimpse of what we have in L.A. from a volleyball standpoint.”

Thanks to her exposure on the Front Range through club volleyball, Hinkey went on to play for the Volunteers in the SEC, finishing with 218 kills and 123 assists in her senior year at Knoxville. Following graduation from UT, Hinkey hit the road to California, where she played professional beach volleyball for a few years, while also getting a chance to play overseas in Europe. As her playing career came to a close, Hinkey and close friend and business partner Nikki Jagd started coaching club volleyball in and around the Los Angeles area. However, the politics of the club sport, the competitiveness at the club level, and the overbearing mentality of parents led to the two former Division I volleyball players — Jagd played at UCLA — deciding to start their own training facility, eventually opening up VIBE Volleyball in El Segundo 3 years ago.

“We just didn’t want that part of the volleyball scene,” Hinkey said. “We wanted to help athletes get better and really grow the game. So, we opened up the training facility. We want to embody the good vibes and help kids get to college.”

Now, thanks to a chance encounter with two sisters from Aspen, Hinkey and Jagd, along with former University of Georgia volleyball player Kat Luft, will host a volleyball camp for high school aged players at GSHS on August 7-8 from 9 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., and at AHS Aug. 10-11 from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

“Two sisters from Aspen came out to work with us after their spring break,” Hinkey said. “We didn’t know they were from Aspen, but they googled us looking for a place to get better at volleyball. They came out here for a whole week and did double days with us over spring break. In that time, the sisters’ mom kind of gave us the idea and asked us to come out to Aspen for a camp.

“We’ve been wanting to do something like this and wanted to call it Vibe Ventures and promote it on our Instagram page where we travel around the country and put on clinics. But we talked for a week or two and planned it all out and it came together pretty quickly.

Hinkey, Jagd and Luft will be the trainers at the two camps, where athletes will learn technical breakdown, positional training, game strategy and sports performance.

“We’re really excited,” Hinkey said. “We want to get the girls really excited about volleyball, and really bring back something to the valley. For me personally, I’m excited to see how much the school has changed. Vibe is such a cool, positive training program, so it’s exciting to kick off one of our vibe ventures where I grew up and went to school. That’s special to me.

“But, we mainly just want to spread our love of volleyball to kids at the camps and hope they love it as much as we do. We want to be a good influence in their lives as well. I had so many great coaches in my journey, so it will be great to give back any way that I can.”

To sign up for the camps, visit www.vibevolleyballlab.com.

jcarney@postindependent.com

Aspen Swim Club wins Western Slope again, prepares for big end-of-season meets

The Aspen Swim Club may have new coaches, but the beat marches on in terms of its recent dominance this side of the Rockies. Earlier this month, the Speedos won their seventh straight Western Slope Championship, held July 12 to 14 in Grand Junction.

“That was a really good meet,” coach Tom Jager said. “It was a great experience for everybody. I think the team is coming together. We are starting to feel like we are on our path.”

Jager, who is one of the most decorated Olympic swimmers in U.S. history and was the former head coach at Washington State University, took over the Aspen job in the spring alongside his wife, Becky. They took over the spot Gordon Gerson stepped down from after a long run in charge.

Aspen had five smaller meets this summer before their Western Slope win.

“It’s obviously a big change, but I like them a lot,” Aspen swimmer Lillie Boggs said of the new coaches. “They are super positive and encouraging and I’m enjoying my summer, for sure.”

The streak lives on

Aspen won the Western Slope Championship with 2,683 points, comfortably ahead of runner-up Durango (2,070) and third-place Maverick Aquatics (2,055.5). Factored into that point total was the 8-and-under championship, which is run as a separate meet. Aspen also won that with 369 points, holding off Steamboat Springs (346).

Lillie Boggs, 14, Gavin Boggs, 11, and Maya Khan-Farooqi, 8, all were high-point winners in their respective age and gender groups for Aspen. Numerous others recorded top-three finishes, including many race winners.

“We are starting to feel good as a team and the kids are swimming great. Great leadership,” Tom Jager said. “At the 8-and-under meet, it’s its own entity, and we had half of our senior group helping with the 8-and-unders, and then they went and swam their own championship meet. It is a great environment to have young boys and girls in together, training hard, learning how to work with each other.”

The future of swimming

These last couple of weeks of the summer long-course season will be the biggest for a few of the Aspen swimmers still competing. A group of four will head to the 12-and-under state championships this weekend back in Grand Junction.

Two others — Kayla Tehrani and Laila Khan-Farooqi — will head to senior zones in Clovis, California, next week.

One swimmer, 14-year-old Bennett Jones, was picked to join a contingent from Colorado at the 2019 Western Zone Age Group Championship in Oregon from Aug. 7 to 10.

The biggest of the meets is Aug. 1 to 4 in Des Moines, Iowa, at the 2019 USA Swimming Futures Championships. Lillie Boggs and Shea Card will compete for Aspen.

“Up to this point, this will be the biggest meet I’ve gone to,” Card said. “You don’t want to approach meets like that, because when you approach them like ‘this is my biggest meet ever,’ you get in a bad head space. It may be really important to you, but you can’t let it be really important to you until after that race is over.”

Futures is a significant competition and is seen as the start of the path toward the Olympics. After Futures, swimmers can compete at Junior Nationals, then Senior Nationals, and then it’s onto the Olympic trials.

This will be a first-time trip to Futures for both Boggs and Card.

“Shea has been swimming great,” Jager said. “Shea had best times at Western Slope Championship and he’s been training great all year. So he’s getting ready to go to Futures.”

Card, who will be a junior at Basalt High School this fall, plans to compete in the 100 free, 200 free and 200 back at Futures.

Lillie Boggs actually qualified for Junior Nationals this season in the 200 breaststroke, which came as a bit of a surprise. She will save her Junior Nationals debut for next summer, however, in order to focus on Futures in the coming weeks.

“This year she is staying in the Futures, swimming the full format, hopefully getting some second swims,” Jager said. “There will be a lot of other great 14-year-olds. That’s why they call it Futures. This is the next generation.”

Boggs, who will be a freshman at Aspen High School this fall and is expected to be a key piece of the AHS girls swim team come winter, has already established herself as one of the best distance swimmers for her age in Colorado history, particularly in the mile. Futures will simply provide her another chance to stand out.

“It’s a really good opportunity to go out and swim my hardest and have fun. I’m really excited about it and I’m happy to do it,” she said. “I want to try and go next year (to Junior Nationals) and swim there and hopefully I can get a couple more qual times.”

acolbert@aspentimes.com