Aspen boys basketball team draws No. 6 seed at state, earns first-round bye

Aspen High School’s Liam Farrey takes a shot as the team plays against Vail Mountain School on Monday, March 1, 2021, inside the AHS gymnasium. Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times.

The cards have been dealt. For Aspen High School boys basketball coach Alex Schrempf, it’s now about making the best play possible with what’s already in hand.

“Going into this part of the year, you recognize this is who we are now and we got to go out there and own it,” Schrempf said. “It’s not necessarily about any major growth any more. We’ve made as much growth as we can, and now we just have to go focus on competing and leaving everything out there every night we get.”

The Skiers found out Monday they are the No. 6 seed in the Class 3A state basketball tournament, but won’t know their first opponent until late Tuesday as they have one of eight first-round byes in the 24-team field. Aspen will host either No. 11 Faith Christian (8-4) or No. 22 Strasburg (9-5) on Thursday inside the AHS gymnasium.

This is Aspen’s second straight trip to the state tournament under its fifth-year coach. AHS lost at DSST: Byers in the first round last season, 51-36. Prior to that, the Skiers hadn’t been in the postseason since the 2013-14 season under coach Steve Ketchum, where they went 19-5 and lost to Brush in the round of 16.

“I wasn’t surprised at all that we found success last year because we had awesome leadership in our senior class,” Schrempf said of the team’s run to the state tournament a season ago. “The vibe is the same. It’s the same culture, it’s the same community, it’s the same family. We’ve just continued to stick together. If anything I look back at this last year and I credit our seniors from 2020 as the guys who helped set the bar for what was required of us to find success over this last year.”

Despite all of the hurdles surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, Aspen is 12-1 overall this season with a 6-1 mark in the Class 3A Western Slope League. The lone loss came at home against Coal Ridge, which is the tournament’s No. 13 seed and will host No. 20 Buena Vista on Tuesday in the first round.

Aspen High School boys basketball coach Alex Schrempf tosses the ball back to the official during a game against Vail Mountain School on Monday, March 1, 2021, inside the AHS gymnasium. Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times.

The Skiers have steadily risen under Schrempf. The son of former NBA standout Detlef Schrempf, he took over the reins ahead of the 2016-17 season, going 9-12. The team dropped to 4-16 in 2017-18, but followed with a 7-14 campaign in 2018-19. The 2019-20 team saw a big jump, going 14-10 overall with a run to the district championship game, a 30-point loss to Gunnison.

Despite losing some key seniors, notably Jonathan Woodrow and Aidan Ledingham, the Skiers returned a talented group of now juniors, highlighted by first-team WSL selections in brothers Braden and Shae Korpela, and team newcomer Porter Lee. Braden Korpela leads the team with 10.2 points per game this season, while Lee isn’t far behind at 9.6 points per game. A well-balanced group that doesn’t rely on any one player, five different players average at least seven points a night.

“We’ve seen success and I still feel like we have such a high ceiling,” Schrempf said. “We firmly believe we can play with anybody. There is a lot of excitement behind that, but we want to keep pushing them and keep them hungry for it. I’m really excited, because we have an opportunity.”

Faith Christian and Strasburg will play Tuesday night, with the winner making the long trek to Aspen two days later. The winner of that game will play again Saturday against No. 3 Sterling, No. 14 Colorado Springs Christian or No. 19 The Pinnacle, a game hosted by the highest remaining seed.

St. Mary’s drew the top overall seed in the tournament, while Lutheran is No. 2. Gunnison, seeded No. 15, was the third team to make the postseason out of the 3A WSL and will play No. 18 Salida on Tuesday, the winner headed to Lutheran on Thursday.

“We have this opportunity sitting here in front of us that’s really special,” Schrempf said. “We have helped these kids, but these kids have put in this time and stuck together over such a crazy year and I think the biggest thing, regardless of anything, is the lesson they are going to take away from coronavirus experiences. Not only did they get through this crazy year, but they found success and they got better and they all committed to something.”

The Basalt boys did not make the state tournament, finishing the season 5-4 overall. BHS temporarily had its season shut down due to a COVID-19 exposure, but returned to play one more “make-up game,” a 53-44 win over Roaring Fork.