Purple reign

Nate PetersonAspen Times Weekly
Jordan Curet The Aspen Times
ALL | The Aspen Times

At the beginning of another promising season, it seemed as if natural forces were aligning against the Basalt girls soccer team. A record-breaking winter refused to surrender to spring, resulting in three of the Longhorns first five games being rescheduled. If the ongoing snow was understandable, a raging grass fire in Carbondale on April 15 that shut down Highway 82 for most of the day and ensured yet another rescheduled game started to make Basalt coach Chris Woods wonder.Whats next, Woods joked. Locusts? No, flood.That remains to be seen. Although, by now, nature has hopefully learned the same lesson that opposing soccer teams in the 3A Western Slope have learned and relearned for the past decade: Nothing can stop Basalt. Not snow, not fire, not rain. Not even 11 games in 20 days, the final six coming in a cruel 10-day stretch.With all the postponements, the Longhorns, in search of their 11th straight league title, would have to do it the hardest way.And still, they dominated. Basalt won its first seven league games by a combined tally of 40 goals to 2, highlighted by two convincing 4-1 routs of rival Aspen. By the time the Longhorns slipped up, losing their No. 1 state ranking in an uninspired last-minute 5-4 loss to visiting Vail Mountain School on April 26 the day of prom, no less the league title chase was already over. With two games remaining, Basalt was already assured of the Slopes top playoff spot and the coveted home-field advantage that came with it.Just to prove a point, the Longhorns, with nothing at stake past overall record, then approached their final two league matches as if their season was on the line.They blanked Rangely, 6-0, then buried VMS back on the Gore Rangers home turf, avenging the upset from three days before with a surgical 4-0 win.The message? At Basalt, theres always something to play for, regardless of the scoreboard or the league standings.We really try not to think about the score and just try to focus on our level of play, but its a really big challenge, said senior striker Kat Fitzpatrick, the reigning league player of the year who, despite being doubled and tripled all season, led the Slope with 23 goals and 11 assists. We have to find it within ourselves to stay focused.Easier said than done. Speaking to the adage that winning never gets old, Fitzpatrick acknowledged after another blowout last month that theres only so many lopsided wins to be enjoyed before the routine starts to get stale. When considering the opposite, however, the soft-spoken senior put her remarks in context, letting it be known that shes clearly not complaining. She and the rest of her teammates are fully aware that theyre the envy of the league; the players that everyone loves to hate, only because theyre so damn good.I can only speak for us, but I can tell you that they have clearly set the standard for our league, said longtime Vail Mountain School coach Bob Bandoni. As many generations as they have had in winning championships, we have had the same number in using that program as the standard of measure for the success of our season.Theyre a great, fundamental soccer community, said another person who would know, Aspen girls soccer coach John Gillies. They deserve every success they get because theyre dedicated.

The Basalt blueprintUnlike some dynasties, Woods isnt secretive about what keeps Basalt winning year in and year out. Hes also modest, openly admitting that the varsity teams success extends way beyond him. The competitive club programs in Basalt are a pipeline for developing talent that would make any coach envious, Woods said. Its not just soccer. The same core of seniors who have been dominating the pitch this spring also helped Basalt to its second-straight 3A state appearance in girls basketball and helped capture another league title in the fall in volleyball.Behind all that success, the coach said, are dedicated club coaches and selfless parents.Weve got a great booster system here, Woods said. In soccer, its just a matter of transforming these guys into varsity players and teaching them how physical varsity is.Or, more to the point, teaching generations of Longhorns players the Basalt way. To say that Woods teams play aggressive, in-your-face soccer is an understatement. Now in his eighth season, the Australian-born Woods said its in only been in recent years that Basalt has become known for its offensive fireworks. The cornerstone of the Longhorns run remains an unrelenting commitment to keeping opposing teams from scoring. Fitzpatrick and junior front-line mate Melissa Stewart may get most of the ink for their artistry with a ball and all the goals and assists, but the truth is that Basalt still would have won 10 of its 15 games this season with just one goal. Yes, you read that right: 10 shutouts in 15 games. And if not for Basalts reserves allowing a garbage time score against Aspen on April 24, it would have been 11.Arguably more impressive is the selflessness involved in that supremacy. Unlike Fitzpatrick, who rarely comes out, Basalts defense, depending on the game, features five or six players who rotate in and out of the game with no dropoff in intensity level. The team is also anchored in the net by one of its best athletes, senior Dayne Toney. Blessing with exceptional height and athleticism, Toney also starred in basketball and was unquestionably the best player in the 3A Western Slope on the volleyball court the past two falls. While rarely tested during the regular season, Basalt players know Toney is arguably the most important player on the field during the postseason, when one goal can mean the difference between moving on and going home.This isnt to say that any coach in the state wouldnt dream of having a scoring talent like Fitzpatrick, just the most recent in a long line of game-breaking Basalt forwards. The senior is the rare talent who can create space and see the whole field, even when the opposition has geared its defense to try to do just the opposite.In the final match against Aspen, Fitzpatrick, despite being marked by two Skiers players, still managed to score the games first goal and assist on two others. It was a dominating performance that underlined why opposing coaches unanimously awarded the league MVP trophy to her last season, and will likely have their sanity taken into question if they dont do the same this season.When I was younger, and growing up in the program, I really just wanted to be the best I could be and to better myself every game, Fitzpatrick said. I did that by watching and learning from all the older players.When asked about the legacy of great Basalt players and the unmatched run of league titles, Fitzpatrick acknowledged that the pressure of keeping the streak going is never far from the thoughts of any Longhorn. No Basalt team wants to be known as the group that ended the magic.If there is a secret to all the winning, however, Fitzpatrick said its never losing perspective of the fact that, league titles and state runs aside, high school soccer is meant to be fun.We have a lot of trust with each other, we get along and we have fun, she said. Thats the biggest thing in all the sports, not just soccer. Whenever we have fun, we do