AHS boys begin quest to reach State
The goal was set before the season even began for the Aspen High School boys basketball team.
“Before any player began practicing,” said AHS first-year coach Steve Ketchum, “they all made the same team goal.”
That goal was to make it the Class 3A State Tournament in Colorado Springs early next month.
“This team wants to make it to State,” Ketchum said. “They really want to and believe they can.”
The path to the postseason finale of prep basketball begins Thursday as the Skiers host either Meeker (ninth seed) or Battle Mountain (tenth seed) in the first round of the 3A District Tournament at the Skierdome. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
Aspen earned the second seed of the Western Slope Conference standings after a 9-2 record in league play. The Skiers defeated Roaring Fork last Friday to secure their position behind league winner and top-seeded Eagle Valley.
Olathe finished as the No. 3 seed and Roaring Fork topped off the top four seeds at No. 4.
“If we play with the mental focus this team is capable of playing with, we can beat any team in the state,” Ketchum said. “And now is the time for this team to put the pressure on themselves to go out and play with that mental focus.”
Ketchum added, “The physical ability is there, but we have to have that mental focus if we are going to get past Districts.”
If the Skiers win, they will advance to Friday’s semifinal game (3:30 p.m.) at Central High School in Grand Junction. The boys tournament championship will be at 5:30 p.m. Saturday also at Central High School.
The third-place game, which could be critical to determine the third and final Regional qualifier from the District Tournament, is set for 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Central.
But, Aspen will have to begin its march through the District Tournament without one of its top players. Senior center Andrew Smith went down in the loss to Basalt last Saturday with a severely sprained ankle.
Smith, Aspen’s leading scorer and rebounder, learned Monday that he had torn tissue in his foot and, according to Ketchum, “is not available this weekend.”
The loss of Smith is a big blow to Aspen’s offense.
“This guy carried us on his shoulders at times this season,” Ketchum said. “This is a huge loss for this team – huge.”
Smith, who returned to Aspen after spending two years at a military school, was averaging just under 15 points a game and pulling down nine rebounds a game. He also averaged two blocked shots a game.
Ketchum said he will try to replace Smith with either a four-guard lineup and senior center Stefan Koenes inside. Or, he said, he might keep the regular three-guard rotation of seniors Harris Mufson, Lucas Farrell and Ryan Kerr and insert junior Talbott Walker in Smith’s position.
“I have a lot of confidence in Talbott,” Ketchum said. “When he has played this year, he has played some great tough defense, and that’s what we are going to need.”
If Ketchum goes with a smaller guard lineup to surround Koenes, he said junior Corey Robinson will be the fourth guard on the floor for Aspen.
Robinson has played big minutes for Aspen this season and isn’t afraid of taking the ball to the hole or taking a 3-pointer.
“If we go with the smaller lineup,” Ketchum said, “it will give us a chance to work on our outside shooting and our ball handling.
“If we go with Talbott inside,” he continued, “it will give us a chance to work on our defense and rebounding.”
Regardless of what type of lineup Ketchum chooses, Koenes will “have to step up big for us,” said Ketchum.
“Stefan’s role now magnifies a great deal,” he said. “He has to dominate for us now – the pressure is on him to do this for himself and Andrew.”
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Had Hailey Swirbul decided against going to Europe, she would not have finished with a career-best result in Friday’s World Cup opener. Yes, there was a time, and not long ago, when the U.S. ski team member and Roaring Fork Valley native questioned her desire to put on a race bib.