Skiers preparing to live out their dream
And the Aspen High School boys basketball team is proof: The Skiers reached their dream goal by advancing to the Class 3A High School Basketball State Championships.
The Skiers qualified for the postseason finale by upsetting Del Norte in the 3A Regionals last Saturday. It marks the first time in Aspen’s history that a boys team advanced to state.
Aspen (17-6), seeded eighth, will take on top-ranked Buena Vista (23-0) at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Clune Arena at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
But reaching their goal wasn’t an easy road to take for the Skiers. In fact, some of the players will admit that the beginning of the season was complete hell.
The season began like boot camp for the young soldiers.
And Steve Ketchum was their drill sergeant.
“We ran so much I thought I was going to die,” senior Andrew Smith said. “It was awful.”
The first day of practice back in early November was “the first day of hell,” said senior Ryan Kerr.
The Skiers’ first-year coach ran the Skiers for the better part of two weeks through two-a-day practices.
Ketchum ran the players until they dropped like flies. With no sympathy.
“I was all over their butts,” Ketchum said. “I was really hard on them and I had some confrontations with a few of the players. We had to have it out a couple of times.
“Maybe they hated my guts for a while; I don’t know,” he continued. “But it was important for me to be that hard on them in the beginning.”
Ketchum added, “It’s like being a teacher in the classroom; you set the tone for the whole year in the beginning.”
“We put the hammer on them from day one,” Ketchum said, “and they didn’t like it at all. But I think in the end, they realized that’s what it takes to win.”
Ketchum’s hard-headed attitude at the beginning of the season didn’t win him a great deal of respect.
“I could care less if they love me or hate me,” he said. “The bottom line is winning, so you do whatever it takes to do that – and this team has overcome me and has worked hard to get to where they are now and I couldn’t be prouder of them.”
And it all paid off for the Skiers, who will attempt to bring home Aspen’s first state basketball championship. A tough task After crushing Del Norte, one of the top five teams in Class 3A this year, Aspen will face the No. 1 team in Buena Vista in the State Tournament opener.
The top-ranked Demons come into the game with a perfect 23-0 record as well as Class 3As top ranking.
The Skiers will counter Buena Vista’s unbeaten mark with a 17-6 record. Of Aspen’s six losses, three were to valley rival Basalt and two were one-basket losses.
The Demons have two of the state’s best players in the brothers combination of Drew and Brian Wood.
Senior Drew Wood, a finalist for Colorado’s Mr. Basketball, which honors the top prep player in his or her classification, averaged close to 24 points per game during the regular season.
The 6-foot-3 senior also signed a letter of intent to play football at Colorado State University next year after a stellar season when he recorded 200 tackles as an all-state linebacker.
Brian Wood, a sophomore, averaged just under 23 points a game.
“I don’t think you can stop this team or the Wood brothers,” Ketchum said. “I think you try to contain them. You have to try and focus on the kids that will hurt you the most, and those two are the ones that will hurt you.”
An advantage for the Skiers, according to Ketchum, will be scoring – and lots of it.
“The good thing about us is that we have five guys who can contribute offensively,” he said. “We don’t have one go-to guy.”
Senior center Stefan Koenes and fellow senior post player Andrew Smith are both capable of scoring 14-plus points a game.
Senior guards Lucas Farrell and Ryan Kerr, deadly from the outside, are averaging right around 12 points a game, and junior Corey Robinson, who entered the starting rotation three weeks ago, has averaged just under 10 points per contest.
“So right there, you’ve got five guys scoring in double figures, so who do you stop?” Ketchum said. “So I think we can be just as dangerous against any team out there.
“I wouldn’t sell us short and if we play the way we did against Del Norte, we’ll be in great shape to win this game.”
Buena Vista head coach Robert Wood, the father of Brian and Drew, said he doesn’t know a lot about Aspen except the Skiers “are a big team that can run the floor.” He said the Demons won’t overlook Aspen because the Skiers are the No. 8 seed in the State Tournament.
“It doesn’t matter what seed we are and who we are playing,” he said, “We still have to play the game regardless and whoever we do play, we will not overlook any team, especially Aspen.”
Buena Vista’s Demons, who finished third at the State Tournament last year with a win over Del Norte in the third-place game, also have two guards who are “factors in our offense when we can’t get the ball to Brian or Drew,” according to coach Wood.
Senior point guard Ben Morgan is averaging 10 points per game and is the team leader in assists and steals while fellow senior guard Brian Griswald is a quick guard with a “good eye for the court.”
But the Skiers will bring in a massive lineup of their own beginning with Koenes, who is coming off what Ketchum called “a fantastic performance.”
Koenes has been a key factor for Aspen in the paint all season long.
Next to him in the paint is the team’s leading scorer and rebounder in Smith.
Smith returned to the Skier lineup last week after missing three games due to a severely sprained ankle suffered against Basalt in the regular-season finale.
He made his return to action in the second quarter against Del Norte and played like he hadn’t missed a beat, scoring nine points in five minutes.
“Getting Andrew back was crucial for us,” Ketchum said. “He has been a big part of this team all season long.”
Junior Talbott Walker is also expected to see playing time for the Skiers in the post this weekend.
In addition to guards Farrell, Kerr and Robinson, the Skiers also have senior Zach Cyrus, sophomore Sasa Miletic, junior Duncan Delano and freshman Jeff Brence.
Senior point guard Harris Mufson is arguably the best controlled dribbler for Aspen and can protect the ball under pressure.
His pinpoint passing in the last four games has been an added bonus to Aspen’s success.
“We are going to have fun,” Ketchum said. “But we are also going to continue to play smart and play hard. If we can get this first win, we have a great chance of winning the state title.
“Wouldn’t that be great?”
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