Let the games begin: Prep season kicks off | AspenTimes.com

Let the games begin: Prep season kicks off

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Jeff Caspersen Post Independent

ASPEN – Judging from the unbridled optimism in his voice, it’s obvious Aspen head basketball coach Steve Ketchum is excited about this year’s possibilities.

While he stops short of comparing this crop, which includes a healthy mix of well-established veterans and youngsters teeming with potential, to 2009’s state runner-up squad, Ketchum believes he has the talent to return to Fort Collins.

It might take a while for everything to come together, however, the coach cautioned. The Skiers literally are limping into Friday’s season opener at 8 p.m. against visiting Eagle Valley. Because of a rash of injuries – not to mention some trouble off the court – Aspen will employ a patchwork lineup against the Devils, the favorites to win the 4A Western Slope crown.

“It now becomes a rough start for us,” Ketchum admitted Wednesday. “The silver lining here is that this is a great opportunity for some of our young guys to step in off the bench and try to contribute. Having such great experience early on will hopefully translate into better bench play, better everything down the road.”

The Skiers will be without the services of a host of players who helped propel the squad to a 15-9 record and a 3A state tournament berth in 2010-11. Forward Jake Nugent broke his foot in Aspen’s playoff football game in Eaton and is expected to be in a boot until January, Ketchum said. Star guard Quinn Morehead, who last season emerged as one of the conference’s most dynamic perimeter players, will miss the first few games because of an unspecified violation of team and school rules.

The Skiers’ bench depth also has been dealt a blow; Stefan Papenfus (knee) and Leif Mosher (ankle) likely won’t hit the hardwood tonight.

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A trio of sophomores are expected to start: Clayton Crawford and Trent Lichtenwalter, who both made sizable contributions last season, and guard Daniel Amador, who has returned after living in Colorado Springs.

They will be paired with senior guard James Powell and talented transfer Austin Roark.

Roark, a 6-foot-6 senior who helped 5A Manzano High School reach last year’s state championship game in New Mexico a season ago, is the son of assistant superintendent Julia Roark.

He already has made his presence felt on the court; in last week’s scrimmage against Vail Christian, Roark slipped off a back screen, soared and authoritatively slammed home an alley-oop.

“All I’ll say is he had both elbows above the rim. Everyone just stood there in shock and awe,” Ketchum said. “We call him Thor because he brings the hammer.

“I can’t guarantee this is going to happen, but he has the potential to be the best player in the Western Slope – 3A, 4A and 5A. Athletically, he’s really superior to anyone we’ve ever had. Skill-wise, he might be a tad bit below [2008 3A Mr. Basketball] Cory Parker, but he knows that. He’s really working on his perimeter game.”

Roark already has been offered seven full rides from Division II schools, Ketchum said. In addition, The University of Colorado, Colorado State and the Air Force and Naval academies have show interest.

“I’ve worked with a lot of great guys, but he’s the most natural leader I’ve ever been around – and this is my 29th year of coaching,” Ketchum said. “He just oozes leadership. He knows what to say. He knows how to talk to his teammates. The kids absolutely love him.

“I’ll tell you what I love most about him: This kid is a lock for a DII full ride right now, and I asked him why he wasn’t going to sign early. … He said he wants to see if he can play at a higher level. And he said he wanted coaches to come in and not just recruit him, but also see his teammates. I’ve never heard that from any player in America. He’s extremely humble. … He’s a dream player.”

What remains to be seen is whether Roark and company can produce a dream season.

The Skiers surprised many last season when, one year after losing to Faith Christian in the state championship, they advanced all the way to the Sweet 16.

Valley ended Aspen’s bid for a fourth consecutive trip to the Great 8. Ketchum hopes a new streak starts this March.

“When we get all those guys back, now we’ll have a really, really, really unbelievable starting lineup and a solid bench,” Ketchum said. “Give us a couple months, and we’ll have a feel for each other, start to click and be confident. If we stay healthy, we’ll be dangerous.”

• The Aspen girls basketball team kicks off the season at 6:30 p.m. Friday against visiting Eagle Valley. The Skiers, led by a group of talented seniors that includes Bailey Everhart, Savannah Johnson, Olivia Porcaro and Hayley Kremer, among others, amassed a 5-15 record during a 2010-11 season that ended in heartbreak following a one-point loss to valley rival Roaring Fork in the district tournament play-in game. Aspen last made the playoffs in 2009.

• The Basalt boys basketball team will unveil a drastically different lineup and a new coach – Shane Vetter – in Friday’s opener at 5 p.m. against 4A Glenwood Springs at the Brenda Patch Tournament in Carbondale. The Longhorns, 6-14 a season ago, are looking to replace the production of a talented senior class, which included standout guard Blake Scherer, Scott and Carl Riggins, Sam Morrison and Hector Morales.

• The Longhorns girls basketball team also tips off against Glenwood at 3:30 p.m. Friday at the Brenda Patch. Basalt, 5-15 last winter, is a bit of a question mark after losing key contributors Nancy Hernandez, Stephanie Alvarado, Julia Kapustka and Jamie Matherly to graduation.

• The Aspen hockey team had a largely regrettable 2010-11 season, winning just four of 15 games, going 3-10 in 5A Foothills play and averaging little more than two goals per contest. As a result, the 2007 state champions missed out on a playoff berth for the first time in recent memory. The Skiers did end on a positive note, however, winning two of their final three games – including a 7-2 thrashing of Peak to Peak in the finale. They’re hoping that momentum continues Friday, when they travel to Colorado Springs to take on Air Academy at 2:45 p.m. Aspen will be tested early; eight of the Skiers’ first nine games will be against 2010-11 playoff teams.

• The Skiers swim team hits the pool at 5 p.m. Friday in Glenwood, then hosts Montrose and Moffatt County at 9 a.m. Saturday.