Aspen soccer rolls over Basalt, builds confidence, playoff hopes with third win
There was some fun post-game banter about maybe making a run at the Europa League crown, or at the very least a championship here in Colorado, but coaches and veteran players alike made sure the Aspen High School boys soccer team had its eyes aimed toward a more reasonable goal, like making the state playoffs.
But the general positivity from the roster, top to bottom, is an exciting prospect for a team that hasn’t found a lot of success on the pitch in recent years.
“This is the first time since freshman year where we definitely have playoff aspirations,” AHS senior Ansel Whitley said. “We are looking forward to each game and coming into each game with a great winning mentality. We’ve had some great additions to the team.”
The Skiers won their third straight game Wednesday, rolling 8-1 over rival Basalt on the BHS field. After losing 1-0 in double overtime against Crested Butte in the Aug. 21 opener, Aspen beat Telluride (4-1) and Steamboat Springs (3-2) ahead of the win over the Longhorns to reach 3-1 on the still young season.
“You need to go out there and play your soccer, work hard, have the right mentality and do the right things on the field,” Aspen coach Dave Francis said. “And have some humility. And that’s what I asked of them, and that’s what they gave me. Those guys put in a really good performance.”
Aspen made easy work of Basalt, scoring two goals within the first four minutes of the game and led 8-1 by halftime, with neither team scoring in the second half. AHS senior Brody Taylor did most of the damage with four goals, while junior Beckham Nettleton and senior Charles Kimbrough had two each.
The lone goal Aspen’s Emilio Adams gave up was to BHS sophomore Eric D. Vasquez midway through the half that made it 4-1 at the time. Despite allowing eight goals, Basalt goalkeeper Matt Nelson made an equal number of spectacular saves to prevent the Skiers from reaching the 10-goal mercy rule.
The Longhorns, now 1-6 overall after Wednesday’s non-league game, are a young, rebuilding team under first-year coach Carlos Salazar. They only have two upperclassmen on the roster — both juniors — with a hefty load of freshmen playing significant varsity minutes.
“It’s hard for them to keep the hope up just because we are losing 8-1 … so we try to manage. Hopefully next season is better with a little more numbers,” Salazar said. “They are waking up little by little. But it will be a pretty long season for us, for sure … but there is a lot of hope. It will take a lot of hard work and belief from the side of the kids. Hopefully we get there.”
Aspen is searching for its first trip to the postseason since 2018, which ended with a 4-0 loss to mighty Kent Denver. AHS only went 6-9 that fall before struggling through a 2-13 campaign in 2019. The shortened 2020 season was pushed to the spring of 2021 because of the pandemic, and the Skiers only went 2-6, including a season-ending 4-2 loss to Basalt.
But with three wins in four games to start the 2021 fall season, the Skiers have a level of confidence not seen in recent years and they hope that carries them back to the playoffs.
Aspen next will host Moffat County (1-2) on Saturday before a non-league trip to Roaring Fork on Tuesday. The Rams are ranked No. 8 in Class 3A in this week’s CHSAANow.com poll, while Coal Ridge is No. 2 in the state behind only Jefferson Academy. Aspen also was getting a few votes to be ranked.
“We are playing really, really well. Everyone has improved. We are enjoying ourselves and looking for the playoffs this year,” Whitley said. “We can’t let these wins go to our head. We have to stay vigilant in practices and keep working hard, keep putting in great effort and get some big results against teams like Carbondale (Roaring Fork) and Coal Ridge, who have been dominant these past few years.”
Basalt is off until hosting Rifle on Tuesday. The Longhorns and Skiers will play once more this fall, in the regular-season finale on Oct. 19 in Aspen.
Aspen City Council approved a contract with Daniel Joseph (DJ) Watkins during Tuesday’s regular meeting to move forward with his intentions to operate his proposed “Aspen Collective,” which is currently occupied by Mia Valley’s Valley Fine Art.