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Saturday night line up: Skiers and Devils

Ben Husband

Stefan Koenes will be the first to admit that he needs to get physical when playing basketball.

When it comes to banging bodies underneath the basket, the Aspen High School boys senior center says “that’s the one thing that I’m not really good at doing.”

Growing up in Germany, the AHS foreign exchange student was introduced to basketball where defense isn’t as important as offense.

But when the 6-foot-8 inch Koenes came to America last year, defense all of a sudden became an important part of his game.

“I know that I need to work more on my defense,” he said before playing his first game for AHS.

So far this year, Koenes has already faced some of the Western Slope Conference’s powerful post players such as Basalt’s Forrest Woolery and Olathe’s Jesse Ruland.

But come Saturday night, Koenes will face his biggest challenge yet when Jim Bair and ninth-ranked Eagle Valley come to town for a key Western Slope Conference matchup (game time is scheduled for 6 p.m. or immediately following the girls’ game).

The Skiers kick off the weekend of play tonight as they host Paonia (7 p.m.) at the Skierdome.

Bair, a massive 6-7 center, is arguably the best inside player in the WSC and maybe one of the best in Class 3A because of his power in the paint.

“We focus a lot of our offense around Jim,” said second-year Eagle Valley coach Phil Cain. “Our first goal on offense is to go inside to him, so there’s a lot of pressure on Jim, but he’s carried us a lot this year.”

The bulky senior is averaging 21 points a game (fourth in 3A) for the Devils and 11 rebounds, numbers that will require Koenes to play defense like never before.

“I’m nervous,” said Koenes, who is averaging 13 points and seven rebounds per contest. “I’ve heard that he’s real strong and plays very physical.

“It’s going to be very important for me to play just as physical,” he continued. “That may be the only way that I can stop this guy.”

“He (Bair) is a phenomenal player,” AHS coach Steve Ketchum said. “He just may be the best athlete in this league and is probably the league MVP and Stefan is going to have to play physical.”

Ketchum added, “Jim, because of his athletic ability, will probably get around 20 points and grab 12 or 14 boards, so I don’t think there’s any real way to shut him down completely. We just have to contain him and if we can do that, then the rest of our team will have to play well with the rest of their team.”

In addition to Koenes, the Skiers will have backup support with 6-4 seniors Andrew Smith and Shane Gillin as well as 6-2 junior Talbott Walker. Smith is averaging 11 points and eight rebounds a game. Inside, outside If containing Bair becomes a problem, the Skiers will be forced to rely on their outside game, particularly that of seniors Lucas Farrell and Ryan Kerr.

“We’re just going to have to come out and play a solid game and not play sloppy,” Farrell said. “I know that Stefan can match up with Jim (Bair), and if our guards have a good shooting night, there’s not doubt that we will win.”

Farrell, who’s never had the benefit of a true big player inside such as Koenes and Smith, understands the importance of having a good shooting night in big games such as this.

“It’s always been important in the past to have a good shooting night against them (Devils) because we’ve never had a big man inside,” he said.

And even though AHS has the power of Koenes and Smith inside, Farrell still feels strongly that he and his fellow shooting guards must have a good night.

“This year, we have the big guys inside, but even if they can match up with their (Devils’) inside play, we’re still going to have to play good outside,” he said.

“No matter what happens, it’s going to come down to our outside shooting.” Big league matchup AHS enters this weekend of play atop the WSC standings at 3-0 (8-3 overall) tied with Roaring Fork. The Skiers will have the chance to enter Saturday’s big game against the Devils 4-0 if Aspen can get a win against Paonia tonight.

Rangely stunned Eagle Valley last Saturday with an upset win, dropping the Devils into a three-way tie for third place with Olathe and Rangely at 3-1.

“The higher you climb on the ladder of success, the more your rear end is exposed to everyone else underneath you,” Ketchum said. “Everybody is aiming for us right now and they’ll try to shoot us down.

“So it’s going to be interesting – maybe for the first time in who knows when – how we handle the pressure of being on top and everyone else is trying to beat us,” he added.

The last time Eagle Valley traveled to Aspen, the Skiers won by 24 points three years ago.

Last year, the Devils topped Aspen in Gypsum by two points in overtime.

“We’ve always had a lot of respect for Aspen and its players,” Cain said. “And especially this year with the addition of their size and speed, I think that it’s going to be a fun and exciting game.

“I know the kids are looking forward to the game and so am I,” Cain added.

And just because the Skiers are the WSC league leaders, they know that things can change.

“If there was any overconfidence of where we are in the league, it’s gone now,” Farrell said referring to Monday night’s two-point loss to Steamboat Springs.

“It’s going to be tough to stay at the top,” Farrell added, “but we are going to do our best to stay there.”


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