Family atmosphere leads Basalt softball back to state tournament
October 19, 2016
The camaraderie found among the Basalt High School softball players is impossible not to notice. There's the jovial nature of practice to their never-stop-believing attitude in games, to the dedication toward each other off the field.
It's particularly impressive considering the players come from three different schools and often have to go out of their way to find time for each other outside of softball.
"We all are like a family and we all are really close," said junior Megan Nieslanik, a Basalt player who attends Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale. "I pretty much consider every one of these girls to be like one of my sisters. We all just love this game so much and every game we try to give it our all."
Less than half of the varsity players actually attend Basalt High School; nearly as many come from Glenwood Springs High School with a few Roaring Fork students filling in the gaps. Last season, which was Basalt's first under coach Marianne Gardner-Smith, this chemistry didn't work. The Longhorns finished three games below .500 and missed the postseason after making the state tournament in 2014.
"We went my freshman year and it was really fun. It was such a great experience. And it was hard last year not being able to go," said junior Kate Schrock, a BHS student. "We were able to build off each other, learn from each other and grown as a team. I'm really excited to go back."
Basalt (16-5 overall) will return to the Class 3A state tournament Friday in Aurora. The Longhorns are seeded No. 12 in the 16-team, single elimination tournament and will play No. 5 seed Lamar (14-6) in the first round.
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These same two teams met in the first round of the state tournament two years ago, No. 6 seed Lamar beating No. 11 seed Basalt, 14-4.
"They got beat, but that was two years ago and we have a different dynamic this year. If they come to play, we can play with them. But, if we are afraid of our shadow, they'll beat us," Gardner-Smith said. "The biggest difference is in their attitude and their work ethic. This year, they have stepped up. The girls that weren't real leaders last year have stepped up and taken that role on."
The 16 wins is the most by a Longhorn team since winning 17 in 2013, which also was the last time Basalt won a state tournament game. BHS won 14 games in 2014 before its first-round exit to Lamar, and tallied only eight wins a year ago.
But last season seems like eons ago. This year's group, which features a strong junior class and many productive underclassmen, has created a special energy through its unique bond, culminating in its first district title since that 2013 season and a return trip to the state tournament.
"We are just one big family. We support each other on and off the field. We have rough days, but we come together," said sophomore Afton Larsen, a Glenwood student. "I'm really proud of our team and we've come a long way since last year. We are definitely a young team and we have a bright future ahead of us."
Basalt's first-round game against Lamar on Friday will start at 10 a.m. at Aurora Sports Park. The winner plays again at 2:30 p.m. Friday against the winner of No. 4 seed Brush (15-5) and No. 13 seed Faith Christian (11-10).
The semifinals and championship game will be played Saturday.
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