A perfect story: Aspen basketball’s fairy tale ends with a 27-0 record, first title
Skiers took down Centauri in Saturday’s 3A finale
DENVER — Lucas Lee was pretty sure she already knew, but he was still going to text his mother as soon as he could get back to his phone. Winning a state championship is, after all, no small feat and something the Aspen High School senior thought his mother would want to be a part of.
“I’ve been texting her before every game. Just letting her know what we are doing,” Lee said after Saturday’s championship game. “I’m going to go text her right now and let her know we got it done. I’m sure she already knows right now, but it was definitely for her. Yesterday, I started crying before the game because I was like, ‘Damn, she should be here.’ But she’s not, but she’s still with me and she always will be. And she just watched us win the state championship for the first time in school history, so that’s pretty damn cool.”
Lee came home after a playoff win barely a week ago to find his mother had passed, and not even 24 hours later was the inspiration behind a win over Englewood in the regional title game. He vowed then to help the Skiers finish what they had started years ago and he fulfilled that promise Saturday when No. 3 seed Aspen beat No. 5 Centauri 50-40 to win the Class 3A state championship inside the University of Denver’s Hamilton Gymnasium.
It was Aspen’s first state championship in basketball and capped a perfect 27-0 season.
“I’m feeling extremely proud of a bunch of high schoolers. That’s such a surreal feeling. What these kids have done has been so incredible,” said first-year AHS coach Cory Parker, who lost a former college teammate in recent weeks. “He’s (Lee) gone through a lot this year. Him and I have both lost this year. It makes you think of the people that aren’t with you. It makes you think of why you are who you are, and your character and living in people’s name and making sure they would be proud of you. I think Lucas’s mother, there would be no other person prouder than Lucas’s mother.”
Saturday’s final wrapped up the career of 10 AHS seniors, most of whom have been playing together since middle school, if not earlier. They started off their high school careers under former coach Alex Schrempf — who was in attendance on Saturday — before Parker took over this season after having been Schrempf’s assistant coach the past five seasons.
That seniority and experience paid off in a big way on Saturday as Centauri (24-2) gave Aspen plenty of trouble and even led the Skiers at halftime, 18-17.
But a strong run to open the third quarter put AHS on top and it was enough of a push to keep the Falcons at bay the rest of the way. Aspen led 31-27 after three quarters and quickly broke it open to double digits early in the fourth.
“The game was a roller coaster. It was 6-0 and I was like, ‘OK, maybe we’ll just steamroll these guys,’” Lee said. “And then they took the lead in one of the most low scoring first halves I think we’ve had all year. And then I don’t really remember too much right now. I’m trying to process it all. But we came out on top and that’s all that matters.”
For Parker, a 2008 AHS graduate, it was a fairy tale ending to his first season in charge. A former Skier standout on the court, he led AHS to the semifinals his senior season. Two years later, the famed 2010 team reached 26-0 before losing to Faith Christian in the championship game.
But this team, not wanting to repeat history, found a way past Centauri and in the process made new history in the form of the school’s first championship in basketball.
Photos: Aspen basketball vs. Centauri
“It’s been an extremely surreal, emotional year and I think this is just proof. It’s proof of what a sport can do for a group of boys. This is what brotherhood can do for a group of guys,” Parker said. “I feel privileged to be able to have the opportunity to come back to my alma mater and be able to take over and just continue the culture and the legacy we built with Alex. I feel privileged to have this group of boys. Aspen is a ski town. It’s not a basketball town, and we are doing our best to make it a basketball town.”
Dozens of students, past and present, made the trek to Denver on Saturday for the game, as did the AHS dance team. Even former athletic director Martha Richards, who now coaches the DU women’s golf team, stopped by.
Hours away from Aspen, the game had a community feel for the Skiers, something that didn’t go unnoticed by the players, who had been chasing that elusive championship for years.
“I am so proud of my teammates. We worked so hard for this. We did it,” senior Shae Korpela said. “It’s as special as you can get, honestly. There is no banner (currently in the AHS gym). We are going to be the first banner up there and I’m going to remember this for the rest of my life.”
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Andrew Huntsman and Ralph Smalley were chosen by the seniors to give the class address during Basalt High School’s graduation ceremony on Saturday. This had the two BHS teachers questioning the legitimacy of those diplomas they were about to hand out.