On the run in a new direction | AspenTimes.com

On the run in a new direction

Nate Peterson

Aspen senior Ashley Ryan, left, rebounds as sophomore Katy Evans shoots during practice last week at the high school. (Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times)

Aspen, CO ColoradoASPEN First-year coach Jeremy Haack and the Aspen girls basketball team are learning on the run – literally. When Haack arrived from Dallas in October, he surveyed the hand he’d been dealt and realized that if the Skiers were going to be competitive this season, they’d have to outhustle other teams.So, since basketball practice began last month, Aspen’s 10 varsity players have been running. A lot. Think Norman Dale’s practices in “Hoosiers.” Think boot camp. Near the end of one practice last week, Haack ran his players through a whole string of cross-court sprints, then, when they were dog-tired, he asked for one volunteer to sink a free throw and end the torture. Junior point guard Julia Hassall stepped up and, on wobbly legs, clanged the rim.

“That’s two more under 12 seconds,” Haack yelled, as his team lined up and took off for another pair of cross-court trips.Senior Reghan Mahaffey volunteered next and missed as well. Down and back. Down and back. Finally, with players hacking and struggling to stay upright, junior Grace Seigle stepped up and drained a free throw to end practice. “You may be hacked off at me right now, but I wouldn’t trade any of you,” Haack said. “We haven’t played our best basketball yet.”At first glance, it seems like the new coach from the big city may be pushing too hard. Talk to Aspen’s players, however, and they’ll tell you how they welcome the relentless practices.”We need it,” said Hassall, Aspen’s top returning player. “The last two years, I think we struggled to keep up with teams in the second half of games. I think it’s really good for us. The last quarter of the game is when we really need that hard work.”

A number of Haack’s players even thank him as they walk out of the gym. The message: Aspen’s players would rather suffer voluntarily – and be competitive – instead of loaf and lose big. “I think it’s a lot better this year because last year we didn’t condition a lot, and so it kind of got to us at the end of the game,” said senior forward Taylor Schlepp. “This year I think we’re going to be ready to play the whole game.”Even with all the extra conditioning, the Skiers need to improve if they hope to do better than last season’s fifth-place finish among seven teams in the 3A Western Slope. Aspen (1-4) lost back-to-back heartbreakers to open the season, falling to West Grand in by six points, then blowing an eight-point lead to 4A Eagle Valley in the final two minutes of a 47-46 loss.Haack picked up his first win as a head coach against Steamboat Springs on Dec. 7, before 20-plus point losses to Green River (Wyo.) and Basalt. The Skiers get a rematch with Basalt on the Longhorns’ home floor Friday.More than offensive strategy or full-court pressure, Haack believes the key to success is to get his players to believe. He jokes that he left his volunteer coaching position at L.D. Bell High School in Dallas – which has about 2,000 students – because he knew there was a group of girls in Aspen hungry to make it to the playoffs.”It’s much smaller [here], but to me, basketball is basketball,” he said. “Again, these girls are working extremely hard and it’s going to be a special season. There’s nothing like coaching and bringing a group of girls together that might not have as much confidence. They’re coming together, and they’ve got great team chemistry and, you know, that’s pretty awesome.”

Haack wants Hassall to provide most of the offense for the Skiers by leading fast breaks. The job for Seigle and Mahaffey is to pull down rebounds and get the Skiers on the run, while Schlepp must drain open shots and provide tight defense. Freshman Lindsey Anderson will also need to add some fast-break offense. Kylie Westerlind, Georgia Lipkin, Ashley Ryan, Katy Evans and Kerri Kimmel will support the starters off the bench.When it comes to basketball philosophy, Haack said he wants stingy defense to create offense.”We want to get some points in transition before they set up in a zone,” he said. “We’ll use some half-court and full-court traps to create some turnovers and get some offense that way. If you have Julia leading the break, you’re going to get some points.”Hassall readily accepts her role as catalyst. And, like the rest of the Skiers, she is willing to run -in hopes that it leads somewhere.”The biggest difference this year is just intensity,” Hassall said. “We’re working really hard. It should pay off.”Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is npeterson@aspentimes.com