Aspen’s road to state title continues on Thursday |

Aspen’s road to state title continues on Thursday

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – Aspen players took their turns climbing a ladder to cut off a strand of net as fans flooded the Aspen High hardwood Saturday afternoon.

Later, the Skiers retreated to the locker room for some celebratory orange juice and some words of wisdom from coach Steve Ketchum.

He told them to savor the moment. But he also told them to prepare to take the next major step.

The bigger prize is still out there. And, after a weekend in which the 3A state tournament’s second seed twice won convincingly in sub-regional play, it appears to be well within reach.

“I think tonight we showed we’re good enough to win state,” Ketchum said. “The only question is will we. We have three days in Fort Collins to answer that.”

The next test comes at 1:15 p.m. Thursday at Colorado State University. Aspen will square off in the state quarterfinals against No. 10 Manitou Springs, which dispatched No. 7 Hotchkiss on Saturday.

Should they win, the Skiers will vie for a berth to the state championship game Friday against either No. 6 Buena Vista or No. 14 Peak to Peak. (Peak to Peak pulled off the first major upset of the tournament Saturday, knocking off third-seeded and previously unbeaten Jefferson Academy.)

The Skiers will be making their third consecutive trip to the Great Eight. After two disheartening exits and scores of tears, Aspen expects this trip to be different.

It appears primed to make a run – just ask The Academy and Yuma. Both schools came into Aspen with high hopes this past weekend, but left after being outscored by a combined 114-56.

“Everyone [in the selection committee] wanted to rank us four or five,” guard Andrew Papenfus said. “This definitely was a punch to say ‘Hey Denver, we’re here and we’re for real.'”

Friday, the Skiers jumped out to an 11-0 lead over No. 31 The Academy, allowed one field goal in the first nine-plus minutes and rolled, 54-27. Less than 24 hours later, they dismantled No. 15 Yuma – making a statement likely heard across the state.

Aspen’s aggressive trapping defense disrupted the Indians’ sets and forced them to attack primarily from the perimeter.

“We just came out with the fire, the intensity and the urgency that we knew we could play with,” guard Matthew Holmes said. “We didn’t show that 1-3-1 defense last night, and that’s been our bread and butter all year. … You could tell that with our pressure up front and on the sides, their guards were flustered.”

The Skiers led 21-3 after the first eight minutes.

“It was an absolutely incredible defensive effort,” Ketchum said. “[Yuma] is a great team. They were winning their league, maybe the toughest league in the state. … The guys absolutely brought it like there was no tomorrow. And there was no tomorrow.

“That first quarter blew me away. I think I was in shock. … I think we shocked them.”

Seemingly resigned to his team’s fate, normally animated Yuma coach Terry Lofink spent the bulk of the second half sitting instead of stalking the sidelines. The large contingent of Indians fans fell silent, too, during a second half in which Aspen led by as many as 34.

“We definitely came out sharp, and having strong fans behind us was awesome,” Papenfus said. “We put the fear in Yuma. … Sometimes, we looked unstoppable.”

With the win, the Skiers improved to 24-0, and 6-0 in home sub-regionals under Ketchum’s watch.

Holmes was the first to climb the ladder after the final buzzer. The senior – one of nine playing at home for the final time – struggled for a few moments to sever the twine with a pair of dull scissors. He laughed it off as cameras flashed.

If all goes well, the guard will have another chance to cut down the nets in six days.

“I don’t know, I’m speechless. That was the best feeling yet,” Holmes said afterward. “Hopefully our full potential didn’t come out yet.”

“I can’t wait [for the trip to Fort Collins],” Papenfus added. “We need to come out and take what’s ours.”

Ketchum and his players said that mindset is different than in years past.

“Last year, we were just happy to be there. It was understandable because no one thought we would make it,” Holmes said. “This time, everyone expects the best out of us – the community, the players, the coaches. I sure hope [we can produce].”

“In the past, we said, ‘Wow, let’s see if we can win that first game and if we can’t let’s see if we can get a trophy. … Being thrilled with just being there has about run its course. We’re to the point of wanting to win the whole thing,” Ketchum added.

“I have more confidence now than ever before. … It’s time we do what’s never been done.”

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