Fall Flashback: A final wrap on the fall prep season
November 9, 2016
Friday is the official start of winter sports practice for Colorado high schools. Before that begins, how about we stop to look back on an exciting fall prep season. It was my first covering athletics in the Roaring Fork Valley, and it came with numerous highs and lows from Aspen to Basalt.
Naturally, I'll focus on the highs, as those are the moments we most want to remember. I'd include every team and every athlete if I could, as each has a story worth recalling, but I'd be writing for days. Instead, let's focus on the most essential moments that defined this fall season, from outstanding individual athletes to historical team successes.
I did my best over the last few months to write about everything and everyone. I wanted to be everywhere, but often had to pick and choose. The following comes largely from these personal experiences. They are my choices, and mine alone, and making these decisions was no easy task.
Feel free to disagree with them. As a journalist, I want to remain as unbiased as possible and make the fairest choices. These aren't serious accolades — sorry, I won't be sending anyone a plaque — only a way to celebrate the close of one season and look forward to the next.
Note: All statistics were taken from MaxPreps. Gender was not a deciding factor in any category.
top fall athletes
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Aspen: R.J. Peshek
Yes, the Aspen football team only went 2-7 overall, but you can't blame the record on its junior quarterback. Peshek literally carried the young team most of the season, and it's unlikely it would have won those two games without him. Peshek played in all nine games, throwing for 1,630 yards and 11 touchdowns in Aspen's up-tempo offense. He also led the Skiers with 526 yards and seven touchdowns rushing. Defensively, he led the way with 49 tackles, including six for loss. Those are workhorse numbers.
Basalt: Alex Alberto
Truthfully, the Basalt football team had a number of players that could have been chosen here, including Miles Levy and Kyle Roberts. I chose Alberto because he wasn't supposed to be the star this season. After senior Ian Lumsden was lost for the season with an injury, Alberto was promoted to starting tailback. All the junior did was rush for a team-high 865 yards and eight touchdowns, including a season-best performance of 184 yards and three touchdowns in a league-clinching win over Roaring Fork. Not bad for a backup.
Aspen: Karson Pike
Again, the Aspen football team only went 2-7 this fall. Not exactly coach of the year material. However, when you look at the big picture, Pike deserves a lot of credit. This was only his first season in Aspen, and he inherited a bit of a mess after last season's coaching fiasco that included a changing of the guard midway through the schedule. Throw in the fact he only had one varsity senior on an already thin roster and was attempting to implement a very new offensive system. As the season went on, it was obvious the team was improving, even if the wins weren't coming. The offense, which was fun to watch, was starting to figure things out. The big win finally came, a 22-20 victory over Steamboat Springs on senior day to avoid a winless league record.
Basalt: Carl Frerichs/Marianne Gardner-Smith (tie)
We'll talk more about Basalt football later, but no doubt Carl Frerichs deserves some love here. In his ninth season, Frerichs finally won his first league title and captained one of the most exciting seasons in Longhorn football history. It's a bummer the postseason didn't last longer than one game, but that shouldn't take away from a remarkable season.
Now, I'm not a fan of ties, but I'd be remiss if I didn't give BHS softball coach Marianne Gardner-Smith a nod here as well. Last fall, in Gardner-Smith's first season as head coach, the Longhorns finished 8-11 and did not make the state tournament. This year, the team went 16-6, made state, and won its first district title since 2013. What a difference a year makes.
Aspen: Boys tennis
No, it wasn't the best fall for Aspen team sports, but tennis was an exception. Even with a surprising loss to Steamboat Springs at regionals — a team it dominated twice in matches during the regular season — it was one of the best seasons in school history. The Skiers qualified all 11 players for the state tournament, finishing a program-best fourth overall in Class 4A. Aspen had four podium finishers, which coach Gary Quandt believed also is a program best.
Softball was a close second (with a nod to the boys golf and soccer teams), but this has to be football. The senior class was as strong as you'll find. The season started slow, with losses to Rifle and Delta leading to a 1-2 start. Turns out, there was nothing to worry about. Six straight wins later — including a 5-0 run through the 2A Western Slope League that resulted in their first league title since the 1983-84 school year — and the Longhorns were playoff bound for the first time since 2012. The season ended with a heartbreaking 27-20 home loss to D'Evelyn in the first round, but the fight shown by the players will never be forgotten.
never forget MOMENTS
Aspen: Boys XC at home/Boys soccer beats Basalt (tie)
Again, I hate ties, but it's impossible to decide between these two. First, there was the boys cross country team, which shocked even itself by winning its lone home meet in early October. Coach Chris Keleher believed it had been as much as 20 years since the Skier boys had accomplished that feat.
Second, there was the boys soccer team's stunning upset of state-bound Basalt on senior day. The Skiers had nothing to play for but pride, but that was more than enough, it seemed. On a very cold night in Aspen, the Skiers were outshot on a ridiculous level, but goalie Jake Bassi probably played the game of his life to get the match into overtime. From there, it took a shot from Alex Gordon to finish the contest, an incredible 1-0 upset over the Longhorns. The win finished Aspen's season at 5-9-1 overall, while Basalt went on to win its first playoff game since 2012 before a second-round exit.
Basalt: Softball regionals
Watching the Basalt softball team play this season was not for the faint of heart. I'm pretty sure it made things as stressful as possible on purpose. Nothing was more dramatic than its 4-3 win over Gunnison at regionals, where a loss would have put an end to a remarkable season. The Longhorns had run-ruled Gunnison twice earlier in the season, but apparently that was too boring for the girls. Instead, they took a 3-2 deficit into the bottom of the seventh inning in the regional game, some late-game dramatics leading to sophomore Sequoia Kellogg scoring the winning run for Basalt. It wasn't the first comeback for the Longhorns, but it was certainly the most memorable.
keep that chin up
I want to give a lot of Aspen's teams a pat on the back — volleyball and softball included — here simply for the ability to continually show up. The football boys should especially keep that chin high, as they faced a major uphill battle all season and fought to the end. With a new coach and a roster of mostly underclassmen, going 2-7 was about all that could be asked of them. But they kept improving as the season progressed, and that's a sign of committed players and good coaching. If the youngsters can bulk up in the weight room this winter, coach Pike might have himself a pretty solid football team in 2017.
The Longhorns volleyball team finished the fall 5-15 overall, the most wins for the program since winning six in 2011. A bit of a powerhouse less than a decade ago, there seems to be an upward tick with this group. I liked this team because it was scrappy. They put up fights with valley rivals Roaring Fork and Aspen, and while they lost three times in about a week to Rifle to end the season, they were some of the most entertaining games you'll see on a volleyball court. Hopefully the girls don't put too much stock in the record, but keep plugging away, because there is a promising future there.
only a year away
Aspen: Boys golf
This group was a close second for Aspen's team of the year. Instead, I put them here because of the potential. The season ended with a bit of a thud, a disappointing second day at the 3A state tournament in Aurora where the Skiers finished fifth overall. But, this was fifth overall at state with a foursome that included three sophomores and one freshman. Should all four golfers return for 2017 — sophomores Dom Lanese, Dawson Holmes, Jack Hughes and freshman Jack Pevny — they might be able to make a run at the top dogs, like this year's state champion Kent Denver, and vie for some serious hardware.
These girls won't be surprising anyone next season. Consistently ranked in the top 10 of 3A all season, the Longhorns should bring back all but two seniors. Coach Gardner-Smith led a remarkable one-year turnaround, and who knows what could happen with another year of growth. Key returners include current junior pitcher Morgan Ash, who also was in consideration for Basalt's top athlete. I expect a return to the state tournament next fall.
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