Longhorns hungry after semifinal loss | AspenTimes.com

Longhorns hungry after semifinal loss

Nate Peterson

Basalt senior Felipe Sanchez dribbles around an Aspen defender Tuesday during a scrimmage at Aspen High School. The Longhorns open their season today in Denver against last years 3A state runner-up, Faith Christian.(Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times)

On a crisp fall evening in Arvada. In a rematch of a tense 2003 quarterfinal game. Under the glow of bright lights and the collective glare of a stadium packed with purple-and-gold clad supporters.That’s where Salida stole the 2004 3A state title from the Basalt boys soccer team.The semifinal matchup pitted two teams with a history of tight games, including the Spartans’ 1-0 win to end the Longhorns playoff run the previous season. This time, Basalt outplayed the opposition for entire first half and most of the second. None of that mattered when the final whistle blew and the scoreboard again read Salida 1, Basalt 0. The Longhorns outshot Salida, 20-10, and choked the Spartan attack for most of the game. But an unassisted goal from Salida sophomore Tyler Keidel was the bullet that killed state championship dreams. The fact that the ‘Horns beat Salida, 2-0, two months earlier in a nonleague game only made the semifinal loss harder to digest. That Salida then went on to beat Faith Christian, 1-0, in the state final to become the first public school since 1992 to win the 3A title was the bitterest pill.A whole offseason removed from that tough loss, the Basalt Longhorns enter 2005 with refocused energy and the same goal of winning it all. The loss of three key players in the middle, including consensus all-state center midfielder Cy Eaton, leaves the Longhorns with some big holes to fill. With 12 seniors returning, however, the cupboard is far from empty.

Fifth-year coach Erik Streff, despite being of the one-game-at-a-time school of coaching, said Tuesday he believes his squad is deep and talented enough to make it as far as last year’s team – if not further.”These guys have worked hard,” Streff said, as his team prepared for its opener today against 2004 state runner-up Faith Christian. “They’ve been part of the program the last three years and have put a lot of time and effort and everything in order to get where they are. Some of them are stepping up more than they have in the past, which is always great to see. We have a very strong team, it’s just getting them all focused and ready to go.”Eaton, who led 3A in assists and points last year, will be hard to replace, as will Brett Guglielmo and Jesse Scholler, who started at sweeper and stopper, respectively. The Horns don’t have to replace arguably their most important offensive and defensive players. Felipe Sanchez, the nimble senior forward who has started since his freshman year returns, as does fourth-year keeper Jamie Wirkler.Sanchez said Basalt may not be as strong on defense as last year, but offensively the Longhorns’ side should be better.”We pretty much lost all of our players up the middle who were really crucial in games, but I think that if we keep pressing the way we’re pressing right now and get our head set to not depending on the players who have left, we have a good shot,” he said.Added Wirkler: “Each year I’ve been here we’ve made it to at least the quarterfinals in state, so I mean, I know what it’s like to lose in the later rounds. It doesn’t feel good. I’m hoping that in our last year we can get some revenge, maybe.”

Wirkler and Sanchez’s freshman year ended with a 1-0 loss to perennial power Kent Denver in the playoffs. Opening the season against Faith Christian, the only other team to beat Basalt last season, the Longhorns will have an immediate idea of where they stand with the other elite teams in the state. Last year, opening against Faith, Basalt took an early 1-0 lead, then watched in disbelief as the Eagles reeled off four goals in eight minutes en route to a 4-1 win. “It was a pretty close game up until the point we scored, then we just got ahead of ourselves, and that’s when they scored those four goals,” Sanchez said. “I think we need to go down there with the same mentality we had in those first couple of minutes in the first half [last year] and keep that up the entire game. We need to continually keep thinking we’re tied, 0-0.”A rematch at Salida on Sept. 15 should also be a good test to see where the Longhorns stand early on, and what adjustments will be necessary for a postseason run.Streff, however, wasn’t thinking about Salida on Tuesday, just Faith.”They’re always one of top teams in the state and they’re always competing for a state title, so it’s something we have to get ready for,” he said. “They put a lot of time in year-round, not necessarily during the fall season.”

Depth everywhereReplacing Eaton will be senior David Rosales, who saw significant playing time as a junior. Senior Luke Caudill will play stopper, and John Paul Fitzpatrick will start at sweeper. Joining Sanchez on the front line will be senior Alex Giglio, senior Brett Boyle, senior Francisco Hernandez and junior Ryan Zubizarreta. Zubizarreta will also likely see time as a midfielder and a defender. Freshmen Kyle Wood and senior Dennis Morgan will see substantial time on defense. Junior midfielder Trevor Brown is also in the starting mix.Sanchez said, regardless of the potential of this year’s team, nothing is guaranteed in the playoffs. The sting of last year’s semifinal loss will only truly go away if the Longhorns can return to the same spot as last year and win. “I think I need to definitely step up, but I also think we need to step up together as a team,” he said. “I’m not really sure what other teams are going to think [about us], but I think that’s pretty irrelevant to how we play. We just need to go out there and play our game. That’s all that matters.”Nate Peterson can be reached at npeterson@aspentimes.com