Aspen boys start with jammed schedule
The Aspen Times
That means the basketball season opens today for the Aspen High School boys basketball team.
And the season begins with a flurry of games for the senior-laden Skiers.
“Five games in a week … that’s a quick start,” Aspen head coach Steve Ketchum said as he prepped the Skiers for today’s 7 p.m. game at Grand Valley (0-2).
The Skiers (0-0) will play four games in the next five days and five games in the next seven days as part of a jam-packed pre-holiday schedule.
Adding to the importance of today’s season opener, it also is a Western Slope League game for both teams.
“We are so ready to play a game. The players are sick and tired of (practicing) against each other … we’ve been working so hard,” said Ketchum, in his 16th season as the head coach of the Aspen boys.
He said the Skiers worked extremely hard in their traditional two-a-day workouts.
“But we needed those practice days to get ready,” Ketchum said.
The Skiers, after today’s opener, will play three games in the annual Glenwood Springs Tournament on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
The Aspen boys will take on Class 4A Glenwood Springs, Class 4A Eagle Valley and traditional 3A powerhouse Faith Christian on consecutive days.
“It’s a great opportunity for us. It’s a great opportunity for us to see who we are,” Ketchum said of the opening four games, including three tournament games in Glenwood Springs.
“We’ve got really, really strong senior leadership this year,” Ketchum said of a roster that is eight strong in seniors, including returning all-conference selections Clayton Crawford and Trent Lichtenwalter.
“Those two are model students, model players … the kind of kids you’d want your kids to grow up to be like,” Ketchum said.
Crawford, a Class 3A all-state selection last year when the Skiers went 19-5, is a four-year varsity player for Aspen. He assumed a starting role halfway through his freshman season, and he’s been starting ever since.
Lichtenwalter, an all-state honorable mention selection for the Skiers last season, is a two-year starter and three-year varsity player for the Skiers, who advanced to the second round of the 3A state playoffs last season before falling to eventual state runner-up Kent Denver. Aspen beat La Junta in the first round of the state playoffs last year.
“They both lead by example. They don’t say a lot, but they get it done,” Ketchum said of the 6-4 twin towers who can dunk and shoot 3-pointers with equal aplomb.
“Trent … the transformation in him is unbelievable,” Ketchum said. “The last two years, he’s dedicated to getting better, stronger.”
The extensive fitness training, including CrossFit, has made Lichtenwalter not only stronger, but more explosive.
“He’s not the same player you saw a year ago,” Ketchum said.
Fellow senior JJ Ready was selected by his teammates as one of the team captains this year, Ketchum said.
Parker Johnson and Levi Wright also return as seniors this season.
Junior Evan Patzoldt, another all-conference selection last year, also is back for the Skiers.
“Evan has improved by leaps and bounds,” he said of the Aspen junior who not only made the all-star team at the summer Aspen Basketball Academy, but he was named the academy MVP.
“His basketball IQ is going through the roof,” he said of Patzoldt’s propensity for involving his teammates.
Another junior, Dominic Alcorta, also will boost the Skiers this season.
“He really understands the game. He’s the son of a coach,” Ketchum said.
Alcorta’s mother, Debbie Alcorta was the longtime girls basketball coach at Basalt who led the Longhorns to multiple Class 3A state tournaments.
“And he’s grown. He’s 6-4 … long. He has a high-skill level,” the veteran Aspen coach said.
Ketchum said his starting five has a chance to be one of the best he’s fielded in his 16 seasons at Aspen HIgh School.
“How are they all going to fit together? Who will be the first off the bench? With five games in seven days, I think we’ll find out,” Ketchum said.
The Aspen boys will open the home season Dec. 17 with a conference game against Cedaredge.
After the holiday break, the Skiers will return to action Jan. 10 against Coal Ridge.
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In a move unusual in today’s West, private land in the Crystal Valley opened in July to free public use by mountain bikers, hikers and trail runners. Coal Basin Ranch opened a 5-mile trail network in mid-July that is open to the public at no cost.