Holding Court | AspenTimes.com

Holding Court

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The countdown to the state championship game has begun, and the Aspen High School basketball squads are well-prepared.

After all, they’ve got a couple of sharpshooters on their side.

AHS seniors Nick Farrell and Lizzie Suiter made school history last month when they became their respective teams’ all-time leading scorers. Farrell and Suiter have racked up well over 1,000 points each in their four-year varsity careers, along with other assorted honors.

Farrell, his coaches note, tops past players in just about every category: shooting, rebounding and, as co-captain of the current team, leadership abilities.

Suiter, meanwhile, is so athletic that she’s earned a full ride to Stanford University next year – for a completely different sport.

The contributions of these seniors greatly improved Aspen High’s championship chances this season, helping both teams advance to the first round of the Class 3A regional tournament. And if the Skiers’ luck holds out, Farrell and Suiter will lead the charge to the state finals – and perhaps help their school to its first-ever basketball championship.

The Final Farrell

The Farrells are a basketball family.

“My dad and brothers all play. I always played with them, even when I was really little – every weekend, practically,” Nick Farrell said.

Farrell also grew up watching older brother Tommy, now 23, and Luke, 21, play competitively. Farrell was an eighth-grader when he saw Luke play his final game as a Skier at the state championship tournament.

Though Aspen High School didn’t take home a trophy that year, they did win over a future player. Nick Farrell joined the AHS squad the following year, becoming one of just two freshman players on the varsity roster.

AHS Coach Steve Ketchum notes that Farrell was forced to prove himself that first year, as the quiet freshman point and shooting guard followed in the footsteps of his two talented brothers.

Any fears about Farrell’s ability were quickly laid to rest. “He’s the best player we’ve got at that position, and he proved it as a freshman,” Ketchum said. “He was honorable mention all-state as a freshman and made the all-league team. As a sophomore, he was honorable mention all-state again. As a junior, he was second team all-state.”

Ketchum has seen only one four-year varsity starter in his 23-year coaching career, and Farrell has proved that he deserved that designation.

“As far as I know, he broke about four or five school records last year,” Ketchum said. Farrell owns a total of seven or eight Aspen High School records, Ketchum added.

But Farrell really came into his own as a senior, according to his coach. “Right now, as a senior, he’s leading the state in assists and leading the state in steals, which is amazing,” Ketchum said. “I think there’s only been one or two triple-doubles [double-digit numbers in three major game categories] ever recorded at Aspen High School, and he’s had about four this year already and had six in his career. He’s the all-time, single-season assist leader in the state of Colorado for all classifications, and I believe he just broke the all-time career-assist record for all classifications. I believe [CU alum and current NBA player] Chauncy Billups was the one who held the record.”

Farrell has started 93 consecutive basketball games over the past four years, which allowed him to amass his collection of AHS “all-time” records. He’s also moved into third place on the all-time rebound list and is nearing the record for number of career steals.

He is close to creating another record, too, Ketchum says; the senior narrowly missed recording a “quadruple-double” last month when he racked up 18 points, 11 assists, 10 steals and eight rebounds in a single game.

Farrell said he wasn’t even aware that he could become Aspen High’s all-time leading scorer until the pregame warm-up on Feb. 14. “They told me right before the game,” he said. He needed just 15 points to surpass the record set by Mike Lund in the 1980s. Farrell scored 18 that night, pushing his career record to 1,300-plus points.

Despite his dominance as a player, Farrell credits a tight-knit squad for this year’s successes. ” We’re all good friends,” he said. “We have a lot of seniors [nine, on an 11-man squad], and we’ve been playing together forever. We seem to click more this year than last year.”

Farrell hopes the team’s bond will get them through another tournament season. This same squad traveled to Denver last year for the Class 3A state championships, but two early losses sent AHS home without a trophy. Now 16-6 overall, Aspen is the No. 11 seed in the 32-team regional tournament that begins Friday.

“We want to get to state and do better,” Farrell said. “We have the skill, we just need to think the game out more.”

Suited for Stanford

Lizzie Suiter has always been tall for her age. Luckily, she likes basketball.

“The hoop was always so much closer to me than the other kids, so it seemed more of a plausible sport for me to play,” the 6-foot-2-inch Suiter laughed.

It was during her freshman year at AHS that she learned to use that advantage on the court. That year, Suiter’s family hosted a 6-foot-2-inch German exchange student named Marta, who quickly became a star player for the girls basketball team.

“She was like my mentor,” Suiter said. “I got to see her and play with her, and a bunch of good players, tall players.”

Marta helped AHS make a trip to the state championships that year, and Suiter watched from the sidelines. She played “random minutes here and there,” but mostly learned by example. “I think I had six points my entire freshman year on varsity, but I think it was the most exciting six points of my life,” she said.

Suiter returned to the squad her sophomore year and began starting for varsity at the post position.

AHS girls coach Lance Finkbeiner, who has tutored Suiter throughout her high school career, watched her ability grow in leaps and bounds. Opposing teams quickly learned to guard Suiter closely if they wanted to stop Aspen’s scoring power.

“Her average this year is right at 18 points per game,” Finkbeiner said. “She averaged right around 14 her sophomore year and about 16 her junior year. Not only is that phenomenal that she’s increased every year, but she’s double- and triple-teamed every game.”

Considering those factors – a slow varsity start, as well as challenging competitors – Finkbeiner marvels that Suiter broke the school’s all-time scoring record on Feb. 25, during a district tournament game.

The previous record, set by Terri Dangler in the early 1990s, held steady at 1,092 points for more than a decade. But during the first round of the district tournament, Suiter was able to keep opponent Eagle Valley in check, as well as score 19 points in 2 1/2 quarters of play.

When Suiter sank the shot that earned her 1,093 points – and later, the free throw that pushed her to 1,094 – the AHS gymnasium crowd erupted in cheers and applause. And Suiter had no idea what had happened.

“It seemed like the entire world seemed to know about it except me,” Suiter said. “I made the basket, and it was a three-point play – I got the foul, too – and all of a sudden [freshman starter] Carly Magill is bouncing and jumping at me and hugging me. I first thought that the game was over, but then I looked up and there was still two minutes left in the third quarter.”

Finkbeiner called a timeout to allow the team to congratulate Suiter – and to inform Suiter of her record-breaking performance.

Suiter calls the celebration “short-lived.” Just moments later, she twisted her ankle while angling for a rebound. A trip to the hospital alleviated a few of her fears – the ankle was merely sprained, not broken, and should heal after a few weeks of physical therapy.

However, the sprain will greatly affect Suiter’s contributions during the rest of the basketball season. For the last two games of the district tournament, Suiter taped her ankle and played just a few minutes in each contest.

“She’s just such a competitor,” said Finkbeiner. “It was so gutsy for her to even play Saturday. She was putting her team and teammates first.”

AHS will advance to the regional tournament in Centauri on Friday, but Suiter’s not sure what kind of shape she’ll be in. Also, she doesn’t want to jeopardize her future in yet another sport she excels at, volleyball. Suiter recently accepted a full scholarship to Stanford to play for the school’s volleyball team – the sport that will always be her first choice. “With the future I have ahead at Stanford, I don’t want to risk anything. There’s a lot to lose, and a lot at stake,” she said.

Suiter is not the only Skier making the record books this season. Teammate Tara Walker, who leads the state this year in successful three-point shots, recently broke the Aspen High record for most field goals in a single season.

Suiter and Walker are quick to champion each other’s abilities – talk of one record invariably leads to the other. That’s the spirit of the new AHS girls squad, the girls say. And that’s the reason the girls have set their sights on a successful end to their last season.

“This is the first year in four years that we’ve had a team with no cliques,” Walker said.

“We get along so well, every game we think ‘Wait, why aren’t we winning by 60 points?'” Suiter added. “We have so much faith in each other as players, both on and off the court.”

Jennifer Davoren’s e-mail address is jenniferd@aspentimes.com

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