Tough road ahead for Aspen soccer; Basalt ready to shine
September 2, 2009
When asked to evaluate his team’s prospects for the upcoming season, Aspen soccer coach Junior Sutherland’s response was succinct.
“We have a lot of work to do,” he said Tuesday.
This season could wind up being Sutherland’s toughest coaching job yet. The Skiers lost 16 players to graduation from a team that went 10-6-1 last fall, finished third in the competitive 3A Western Slope and advanced to the state tournament’s second round. Now, nearly every position needs to be filled.
Compounding matters is the fact that the program has only 22 players, not enough to field both a varsity and junior varsity team.
Still, Sutherland is doing his best to keep things positive with the season opener looming Friday against reigning state champion Hotchkiss in the Montrose Tournament.
“Everything is up for grabs,” Sutherland said. “I’m very interested to see how they perform and who is up to the challenge. It’s definitely a challenge.”
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Aspen’s current contingent has large cleats to fill, as four players from last year’s senior class – Kelly Selby, Murphy Fyrwald, Kyle Lusk and Ben Armstrong – were postseason conference-award winners. Selby headlined a defense that produced seven shutouts in 2008.
The Skiers’ remaining nucleus is small, but talented. Terry Leitch will man the defense, while Will Bloemsma will provide offense and adept ball control at midfield. Forward Christian de la Cruz will anchor the front line.
“You always want to build around a few strong players at the back, the midfield and the front,” Sutherland said. “After those three, we’ve got a couple good young kids. … All the juniors all played together on JV since there were so many seniors last year. Now, we’re bringing them through to the next level. They have to work hard and work for each other. … Some will take the chance and go with it.”
Among those Sutherland expects to play key roles this season are sophomore Eric Perez and freshman Alex Ferrara. A host of other young players will find their way onto the field this weekend (Aspen also plays Montrose and Telluride on Saturday) as Sutherland and assistant coach John Gillies evaluate talent and finalize a rotation.
“Not too many times do freshman get a chance to play varsity,” Sutherland said. “We’re ready for the challenge. … We’ll build from each game and see how they perform.
“The kids are cable and hard-working and want to do well.”
Like Sutherland, Basalt head coach John McDermott is scrambling to put the pieces together.
The Longhorns are also coping with the loss of key contributors – none bigger than co-captains and all-conference first teamers Marshall Cleveland and Austin Johnson. (Cleveland, one of the league’s top sweepers, led a defense that held opponents scoreless for the opening 262 minutes of last year’s state playoffs.)
Sinji Sanyo and fellow all-
conference selections Craig Riggins, Kevin Newland and Kenneth Reyes – who combined for five goals in the ‘Horns’ 7-0 tournament-opening win over Crested Butte last season – have also moved on.
But unlike the Skiers, Basalt has a plethora of talent ready to contribute to a team that has been a state quarterfinalist in each of the last five years.
“We could be really good. Who knows?” McDermott said Tuesday. “We’re strong. I will tell you that.”
Leading the way in 2009 will be four-year starter Omar Lopez, who will transition from stopper to sweeper, and center midfielder Johnny Diaz. Scott Riggins returns in goal, and versatile senior Fletcher Richman could play on the back line or join Austin Long and David Gruenefeldt up front, McDermott said.
The Longhorns should receive a boost from sophomore Hector Morales, who was lost for the bulk of the 2008 season because of an injured back. And German exchange student Lucas Billing, whom McDermott said has a “brilliant shot”, is already distinguishing himself.
While the talent is apparent, McDermott is trying to instill discipline and focus on the little things this offseason, he said. After all, a missed assignment in the 63rd minute of last year’s state quarterfinal against Fountain Valley cost Basalt the chance to return to its first semifinal since 2005.
“That still eats me up. One simple mistake cost us the game,” McDermott opined. “Something we’re trying to build up is focusing on the game. You have to be serious to play on this team. … Some of the players have been to England and Spain with me, and they think I’m like a little brother. I’ve cut that out right away. I’ve got them running hills and stuff.”
The Longhorns will be tested early. They travel to the Sun Devil Tournament in Denver this weekend to take on Kent Denver and Denver Christian.