The season here, Aspen boys lacrosse looks to move on from recent tragedy
From the excitement in the locker room to the focus on the field, there wasn’t much out of the norm Tuesday when the Aspen High School boys lacrosse team got together for its second day of tryouts.
But weighing over the team is an absence no teenagers should ever have to deal with. The relative normalcy is important for a group trying to move on from the recent deaths of Mike Goerne and Owen Green, two men who had a significant impact on most, if not all, of the AHS players.
“They were always there for us when we needed them and they really built this program up,” AHS junior Trey Fabrocini said. “Both of these coaches idolized the idea of being a true champion. Mike Goerne, everyone knows his state championship team. They brought a lot of attention to Aspen and they really made this lacrosse program great.”
Goerne and Green both died Feb. 16 in an avalanche in the East Brush Creek area near Crested Butte. They were training for the Grand Traverse, a backcountry ski race across the Elk Mountains.
For the local lacrosse community, it was a tragedy that hit home in the worst way. Goerne, who was 37, is credited with having created the Aspen High School lacrosse club in 2006. He was the team’s longtime head coach, including when they won the 2015 state championship.
Without Goerne, the sport more or less doesn’t exist in the Roaring Fork Valley, at least not at the level it is today. Green, who was 27, helped coach lacrosse at many levels in recent years, including his time as offensive coordinator for the high school team.
Tommy Cox, 27, has taken over the reins as head coach this spring. The Long Island native and former St. John’s University lacrosse player was going about business as usual Tuesday, trying to get the Skiers ready for their season opener, which is barely a week away.
“It doesn’t matter how a man dies, in my opinion. It’s what he does when he’s alive. And Mike literally built a family up and down this valley and that’s the most amazing thing to do for somebody,” Cox said. “He’s created a culture and a family and a brotherhood that otherwise wouldn’t be here.”
Goerne, who stepped down from the head coach role in 2015, had remained a noticeable presence for the high school athletes. While continuing to coach at the youth level, he was part of the selection committee with AHS athletic director Martha Richards when trying to pick a replacement for David Miller, who decided to step down after having been the team’s head coach each of the past three seasons.
Goerne and Green both were expected back as assistants under Cox this spring.
“They touched such a large span of people, and I think that’s what made it so hard,” AHS senior Dawson Holmes said. “Just having the thought that they put so much effort into the game of lacrosse and youth lacrosse and when things are tough, thinking about them will definitely give us motivation to dig deeper, because that’s what they would have wanted us to do.”
The grieving period will likely continue throughout the spring. But just because Goerne and Green are no longer here doesn’t mean they won’t continue to have an impact on this year’s team.
“You don’t want to sit there and say this is hard without Mike. You want to say, ‘What would Mike want me to do in this situation? How would he want me to play?’ You have Mike and Owen watching you now. There is no hiding from that,” Cox said. “I want them to remember what he instilled in them and utilize it. Obviously it’s going to be sad without having him out there. But we need to live in their image.”
A private memorial was held Friday in Aspen for Green. Goerne’s family is planning a March 16 public service in Carbondale; it will be held at 10 a.m. at The Orchard followed by a recpetion.
From patches to banners to other currently unplanned tributes, the two men will never be forgotten. Each time the Skiers step out onto the field, the idea is that they continue to embody that championship mentality Goerne, and later Green, helped develop in the Aspen lacrosse program.
“Hopefully we can get through this tragedy,” Richards said. “You won’t ever forget, but hopefully it can be something that really brings the program together, the kids playing for each other. I know that’s what Mike would want. That’s what Owen would want.”
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