AHS boys are chasing down a dream
One more game.
One more obstacle.
One more win and the dream will come true for the Aspen High School boys’ basketball team.
The Skiers have already done what no other boys’ team at AHS has ever done by winning a school-record 16 games.
Now, Aspen looks to make history and add to an incredible season – and the Skiers can do that with just one more win.
Saturday, the Skiers (16-6) travel to Del Norte (16-5) for the Class 3A Regionals.
The Skiers enter the game as the 11th seed while Del Norte, one of the top teams in 3A all season long, enters as the No. 6 seed.
If Aspen wins, the Skiers will advance to the one tournament the players penciled in as their top goal before even playing a single game this year – the State Tournament.
With the Class 3A High School Basketball State Tournament beginning next Thursday at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, only Del Norte stands in the way of the dream for the Skiers.
“Looking back to the preseason,” said first-year coach Steve Ketchum, “every player on this team made a goal to get to the State Tournament. Nobody wanted anything else other than state, and now, we’re one step away from making the dream come true.”
The Skiers, however, have already suffered a big blow before Regionals when Ketchum learned that senior post player Andrew Smith has not fully recovered from the sprained ankle he suffered three weeks ago against Basalt in the regular-season finale.
Smith was expected to return to the lineup against Del Norte after sitting out the last three games, but the injury continues to trouble Smith, who is expected to see limited action.
Ketchum calls this a “huge loss.”
Before the injury, Smith was averaging 14 points and eight rebounds a game.
“This hurts us a lot,” he said. “Knowing you can’t play without your best scorer and best rebounder affects the rest of the team’s confidence, but we also know that we can play without him – we have for the last three games.
“And that’s where the challenge of this team comes in this weekend,” Ketchum continued, “to play without him. To be able to step up and play smart – you can’t replace someone like Andrew, but we can play without him if we play smart.”
Besides Smith inside, the Skiers have 6-foot-8 inch senior center Stefan Koenes, who has played solid all season under the basket.
Taking Smith’s position in the lineup will be junior Corey Robinson, who has played to near perfection in Smith’s absence the last three games.
“Corey has responded better than we had hoped he would,” Ketchum said. “He has just done a great job of filling in when we needed him to and we need him to continue to play the way he has been playing.”
Robinson said there wasn’t a lot of pressure was on him, but he knew he had to play big at a crucial point of the season.
“Personally, starting near the end of the season was tough knowing that I had to step it up,” he said. “But the pressure really wasn’t on me to do well.”
With Smith limited to a minor role for the Skiers means that seniors Ryan Kerr and Lucas Farrell “must have a good game,” Ketchum said.
Both Kerr and Farrell will be looked upon to carry the load and be productive from the perimeter.
“There’s no doubt about it that those two will have to have a good shooting game,” Ketchum said.
“Without putting too much pressure on Ryan, he will have to pull the trigger when he gets an open shot,” Ketchum added. “He’s our best and most consistent shooter from outside, but the one thing about Ryan is that he is an unselfish player, if he doesn’t have the open shot, he’ll help create one.”
As for Farrell, “he leads by example and he’ll be the one working his butt off harder than anyone else out there.”
Both Farrell and Kerr know the importance of their roles come game time.
“We are taking this game very seriously,” Farrell said. “This is where our seniority comes into play – we’ve got to play and we’ve got to get everyone else ready to play.
“There’s no place for nervousness now,” Farrell added.
Kerr, who is averaging six assists and five steals a game, said that he and his fellow senior sidekick are used to the pressures of stepping up in big games.
“We kind of got used to it last week at Districts,” he said. “Luke and I have always played well together in big games.”
Without the ability to use his top scorer and rebounder, Ketchum remains optimistic.
“I think we still have a great chance of winning,” he said. “If we can do a decent job of shutting down their big guys and just play smart and hard, then I think we’ll win. But we have to have that combo to win.”
In their final shot of making it to state, both Kerr and Farrell realize how close they really are.
“Last year we went and watched the girls [Aspen] play at state,” Kerr said. “Seeing that gym and watching the other teams play makes you want to be there.”
“We don’t want to go and watch this year,” Farrell said. “We want to go play.”
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