Basalt volleyball beats Aspen, one win away from 3A Western Slope League title

Aspen High School volleyball plays Basalt on Tuesday, April 20, 2021, inside the AHS gymnasium.
Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Sometimes girls just want to have fun, and that’s the exact mentality that has the Basalt High School volleyball team on the cusp of its first league championship since 2007.

Despite an 0-3 start against bigger Class 4A schools, the Longhorns used that early slump to kickstart a torrid run through much of the 3A Western Slope League slate and into the driver’s seat.

“When we played Eagle Valley, I said to my teammates, ‘No matter what we do, this is so much fun.’ And starting off with the basis of ‘This is fun’ is what I think pushed us off on a good level,” BHS senior outside hitter Karina Bauer said Tuesday. “We knew we could have fun and play at a high level and have that confidence behind us. Even though we lost to those teams, we all were still working together and striving to do as well as we could. But the basis of fun is what got us to where we are.”

The Longhorns played Tuesday at rival Aspen, winning the league match, 3-0. Now 9-4 overall and with only a lone league loss, all Basalt needs to do to win its first WSL title in more than a decade is go on the road and beat a winless Rifle team in the regular-season finale on Thursday.

Only two seasons ago, in the fall of 2018, Basalt finished dead last in the 10-team league, going 6-16 overall. Last season, in the fall of 2019, BHS went 11-11 overall and finished fourth in the WSL. Now, they are poised to win their first league title since the 2007 squad went 22-4 overall.

“The challenge has been getting them to believe in themselves and really getting them to step up and have a winning culture,” fourth-year BHS coach David Chadbourne said. “We are making a breakthrough there. We’ve made a breakthrough with this team, so it’s been a lot of fun. They are a very talented group of young ladies, I’ll tell you that.”

Basalt players celebrate a point vs. Aspen on Tuesday, April 20, 2021, inside the AHS gymnasium.
Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Basalt opened this one-off spring season — delayed from the fall because of the pandemic — with losses to Glenwood Springs (3-0), Eagle Valley (3-1) and Battle Mountain (3-2). Then came six straight wins via sweep and a massive 3-2 win over perennial powerhouse Coal Ridge on April 15 for a seventh straight victory.

That run ended with a 3-2 loss to Cedaredge on Friday, but BHS has bounced back with wins over Grand Valley (3-1 on Saturday) and now Aspen, with only Rifle left on the schedule before the postseason begins.

“I told our guys that we had a target on our back, being in the No. 1 spot, and we knew these girls, although they are friends with our girls off the court, when we get on the court, they are looking to beat us,” Chadbourne said of the Aspen game on Tuesday. “I don’t take anybody for granted. I wouldn’t take a third-grade team for granted. Everybody wants to beat the Basalt Lady Longhorns this year, and that’s the message we are sending to our girls, to fight hard for every single point.”

Gallery caption: Photos: Basalt volleyball at Aspen

Basalt is an experienced team, with five seniors putting in big minutes this season to go with the play of junior setter Lexi Lowe. And of those seniors, most of the offense revolves around Bauer, who has become a force up front. She had a team-high — and by a large margin — 116 kills entering Tuesday’s match with the Skiers.

Bauer has been a key piece for the varsity squad since her freshman season and is certainly a big reason why the Longhorns are on the verge of a league championship.

“It’s been so much fun. I think there is so much more trust. In the past couple of years, we struggled with individualism and not working as a team. Every single game we play, whether we are on the court or off the court, we all just mesh so well,” Bauer said. “To go win a league title would be absolutely insane and it would show that all of us are so talented and we can do anything we put our minds to even if we started at the bottom.”

Young Skiers keep improving

As experienced as Basalt is this season, the Skiers feature a much younger roster with only two seniors in Meghann Smiddy and Sofie Durham. Both players were recognized prior to Tuesday’s game, which was senior night for Aspen.

While the Skiers also lost to Basalt 3-0 earlier this spring in a non-league game, the rematch proved much more competitive, at least through the first two sets, which BHS won by scores of 25-19 and 25-20. Basalt won the third set 25-17 after a late AHS rally closed the gap.

Aspen High School volleyball hosts Basalt on Tuesday, April 20, 2021, inside the AHS gymnasium.

“They showed up. It was great. The first time we played them it wasn’t as competitive,” AHS coach Brittany Zanin said of her players. “If you are going to meet a team more than once and you don’t come out victorious the first time, the goal is to do better the second time. And they really did. It was great. It was fun volleyball to watch.”

Aspen will close out its spring with a game Thursday at Coal Ridge and a game Friday at Delta, two of the better teams in the WSL this season. Now 3-8 overall, the Skiers likely won’t make the postseason.

But, considering AHS started the spring with five straight losses before winning three out of five ahead of the BHS game, there is certainly something for the Skiers to latch onto entering what should hopefully be a typical fall season.

“They are learning to make the right choices at the right time,” Zanin said. “I wish it would have come a little sooner in the season. I’m very sad to lose Meghann and Sofie, but I do have very high hopes for the season starting in August.”