‘Horns hope their stars align in ’04
Visibly frustrated, 16-year-old Felipe Sanchez studied the ground during halftime last Saturday morning in Basalt.His team was up 7-nil over Pagosa Springs en route to its fourth consecutive victory in this season of great expectations, but what bothered Sanchez wasn’t the game.The superstitious source of his cursing was his new gold shoes. They’re no good, he realized – jinxed.Sanchez, the striker who led the Basalt Longhorns in scoring last year with 16 goals, hadn’t scored in the four-and-a-half games to date.
Sure, there was a “gimme” penalty kick goal earlier in the week against Roaring Fork and, worse yet, a goal attributed to him that actually deflected off a Pagosa Springs defender in the first half. But no Sanchez net-seeking missiles from the perimeter or fancifully finished breakaways or jaw-dropping isolations on defenders.Arrggh.Sanchez, a junior, unlaced his gold cleats and went with a plain white pair instead. Some 13 minutes into the second half, he scored not once, but twice. After the first one, center midfielder Cy Eaton – the senior co-captain who assisted on the play – let out a roar: “FELIPE – YES!” Then he ran over to hug Sanchez, marking the team’s most poignant celebration in a three-win week by a cumulative tally of 25-1 (over Paonia 10-1, Roaring Fork 5-0 and Pagosa 10-0).Sanchez was back. And so were the Longhorns.”I started off the season not really playing my game,” Sanchez said. “I was playing decent, I guess, getting a lot of assists, but I’m all about goals. So when I started missing my breakaways and open nets and other really good chances, it got to me.
“I needed to break through that and I think I did today. I was doing bad in those gold shoes, so I’m not going to be wearing them for a while,” he added, chuckling.Hard workFor the likes of Sanchez, Eaton and senior sweeper Brett Guglielmo, the other co-captain, soccer is not a fall diversion but a year-round obsession.And they believe this is their year.
The trio played on Sanchez’s uncle’s team in the highly competitive 21-team CMC Spring Valley league this summer. (“You learn a lot up there – basically not to screw around with the ball,” said Sanchez. “Because if you screw around with it, you’re gonna get killed.”) And they played with BHS coach Erik Streff and a handful of other Basalt regulars and recent graduates to form the championship team in the Aspen Recreation Department’s summer adult soccer league.Eaton, meanwhile, spent a month of the summer training with a professional team in Brazil, opening an avenue for future Basalt-Brazil forays. This past spring, the BHS team fielded two club squads under Streff, one for the upperclassmen and another for the underclassmen, and during the winter the ‘Horns played indoors at open gym nights in Basalt.”There’s a lot of dedication,” said Streff, who took over as head coach of Basalt when the current crop of seniors were freshmen. “A lot of these kids play multiple sports, but the ones who are dedicated to this sport work hard throughout the year … and that builds a strong sense of team. It’s all voluntary – if they want to play, they can play, I give “em the option – and they volunteer to play. They want it badly.”The three-time defending Class 3A Western Slope League champions have dominated the league since Eaton and Guglielmo’s class were freshmen, when Basalt lost in the state final four, its greatest advance in the state playoffs.
The last two years, Basalt has seen its bid for a first-ever boys soccer state title end in the quarterfinals.”We spent a lot of time and effort to get this far,” said Streff, “and I think it’s finally stepping up to the highest level. They want to be competitive all the time and live up to that reputation of being somebody who can compete with every single team in the state.”Basalt opened the 2004 season on the road with a 4-1 loss to Class 3A defending state champion Faith Christian Sept. 3. The next day, Basalt bounced back to edge another Metro League power, Colorado Academy, 1-nil.Last week, the ‘Horns blitzed through their first three home games to improve to 4-1 overall and 2-0 in league, marking the one-third mark of the regular season.
And through the weekend of Sept. 11, Eaton led all of Colorado’s Class 3A in points (with eight goals and five assists), followed by Sanchez, who tied for No. 2 (with four goals and seven assists). Junior winger Ben Pollock, sophomore midfielders Ryan Zubizaretta and Trevor Brown, and junior forwards Alex Giglio and Brett Boyle have also emerged as goal-scoring threats for the Longhorns. Streff, who coached Eaton, Guglielmo and other seniors, such as defenders Jesse Schoeller and Mitch Reed, on club teams since they were seventh-graders, issues compliments and praise sparingly. Referring to three-year starters Sanchez and Eaton this year, however, the often-understated coach said the players had “blossomed.””Felipe’s grown a few inches, put on some weight and he’s also spent some time in the weight room and working out quite a bit, trying to get better,” he said. “I think it’s really benefited him.”And Cy has stepped up in a big way this year as a leader, trying to motivate the guys as well as myself.”Togetherness
The 2004 team’s togetherness sets it apart, players say.”There’s a lot of guys on this team that have a passion for the game that you can’t teach,” said Eaton, in his third year as a captain. “I’ve played with Brett [Guglielmo] since I was 7 or 8 years old, and some of these guys have been playing together for eight or 10 years. It’s something you develop, a natural bond.”During a midweek practice between games, the team – the largest in recent history with 39 varsity and JV players – warmed up first, then began a crossing drill.Junior Jamie Wirkler, Basalt’s three-year starting goalie, jumped between the pipes, and the firing squad started rifling shots at him. In a matter of minutes, due to a water-saturated penalty box, Wirkler was wading in torn-up sod and squishy patches of mud and grass. Though covered in it, he was all smiles.”Good idea,” he said as a crossing play developed in front of him. “Nice shot.” “Attack it.” “Get there.” “Stick with it.” “One-time it.” And so on.
“Our success, I think, is because we work really hard,” said Wirkler, “and our coaching is really good, too. We all feel comfortable around Erik. It’s just like a family.”Or maybe it’s just because we’ve all been a team for so long; I don’t know. But I think it’s the togetherness that’s different this year. We’re all really good friends, no hard feelings, so we work together and move the ball back and forth really well.”Added Guglielmo, “A lot of us just know where we’ll be on the field at any time, and we can just pass it there and we’ll be there. It’s hard to explain, because there’s something intangible to it, and we all play a different styles: Cy with his ball-handling skills, Felipe’s faster than anybody …”I don’t know what’s going to happen, but it should be a lot of fun. I’ve been looking forward to it all summer.”
Dressed for successWay back in mid-August, on the first day of practice for fall sports teams, Aspen boys coach Grant “Junior” Sutherland predicted Basalt would win it all this year. Denver newspapers have also tapped Basalt as favored contender to win the state title.”Felipe and Cy are great players,” Sutherland said this week. “There’s no question about it. No one can take them lightly.”Chris “Woodsie” Woods, the first-year coach of the Roaring Fork High School boys and longtime coach of the Basalt girls, explained, “They all know each other inside and out and they play like it, and it’s a big credit to the Basalt feeder system. They seem to have a very strong work ethic as well.”And they’ve also tasted defeat, last year, losing 1-0 to Salida in the quarters, so they’re hungrier … And they’ve only lost two, three starters.”
A state title remains the long-term goal for Basalt, but in the meantime Streff set another goal for the team before the Roaring Fork shutout on Sept. 9. “No more goals,” he said the day before at practice. “No more.”Streff, of course, was referring to the defense. The likes of Wirkler, Guglielmo and Schoeller responded by dealing two straight shutouts.On Thursday, Sept. 16, at 4 p.m. at the BHS field, Basalt hosts Salida, another top-ranked team in the state. Streff said the team must treat the match like a playoff game.”Salida put us out 1-0 in the 72nd minute on a corner kick,” Streff recalled of last year’s quarterfinal loss. “We outplayed them for a big part of the game, I think, and just couldn’t finish. But things are finally starting to come around on all these opportunities. And I don’t think it’s going to take much to get these guys up for Salida. They’ll be ready to play.”
Just don’t expect to see Sanchez in his gold shoes.At practice, he stood out as the best-dressed player on the team, wearing purplish-blue matching silky shorts, shirt and socks, and the gold shoes. Wirkler comes in a close second, but Guglielmo says no one can touch Sanchez when it comes to fashion and, for that matter, footraces.”He’s the best-dressed guy,” Guglielmo said, smiling. “We make fun of him a lot for matching all the time. At practice, school, just when he’s at home. It’s really funny. ‘Hey, Felipe, I am matching today?'”Really, we just try to have fun all the time, do a lot of running and practice every drill as hard as we can.””The story behind Felipe and his shoes,” added Eaton, “is that Felipe has about 16 pairs of shoes. He’s doesn’t just have gold ones; he’s got red ones, fluorescent green ones, every color you can think of. That’s just the latest edition – the gold shoes.”
Gold shoes or not, Sanchez likes how the season is shaping up – opening day loss and all.”We’re reaching the point where we need to be, but we’re not quite there yet, still trying to get to the peak,” he said. “We need to keep the intensity up and keep doing our thing, and I think we’ll get there.”I think it’s good we started off with the No. 1 team in the state,” he continued, “just to give us a taste of what we have to do, what we’re up against in order to reach our goal of a state championship. If we started off with the easy teams, we probably would’ve just gotten cocky. But instead we started off getting our butts kicked, a heads-up that we’re not the best team out there. Not yet.”Tim Mutrie’s e-mail address is email@example.com