Aspen clinches Western Slope crown
Aspen soccer coach Junior Sutherland embraced seniors Nicky Anastas and Stephen Buzbee near midfield. Tina Turner’s “Simply the Best” blared on the loudspeaker. The homecoming crowd, drenched and cold after watching Aspen battle Vail Mountain School for 80 minutes, lined Moore Field long after the final whistle.Cross goal No. 2 off the list. The Skiers are on top of the 3A Western Slope again.Aspen (12-2 overall, 10-1 3A Western Slope), led by Buzbee’s two goals and one assist, bested the Gore Rangers, 4-1, to clinch its first league crown since 2000.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Sutherland said. “I’m happy for these kids, they’ve worked hard, and they deserved it. It was meant to be this way.”The script was perfectly crafted. Had they won their previous game with Vail Mountain on Sept. 30, the Skiers would have had the opportunity to clinch the Slope on Tuesday at Coal Ridge. But, after a 3-2, double-overtime loss to the Gore Rangers, the scenario changed. Aspen now had the opportunity to win the league on Homecoming, on its home turf and on the final regular-season home game for the team’s coach and 10 seniors. The significance of the moment seemed to take its toll on the Skiers during a lackluster first half.”I think it was nerves. They knew the importance of this game,” Sutherland said. “They’ve never been in this situation, so they never had pressure like this. But to do well in states, you’re going to be under pressure. You need to step up.”Buzbee, who has scored in all but one game this season, delivered the first half’s lone score in the 27th minute. The forward controlled the ball at his feet with his back to the goal, made a quick dribble to his left to open up space between him and a defender, and fired a shot. The ball deflected, picked up speed and slipped inside the right post. “I got a good bounce,” Buzbee said. “We were playing sloppy, and we needed a spark. We wanted this game bad.”
After an impassioned halftime speech by Sutherland, the Skiers came out with renewed purpose and focus in the second. Senior forward Eric Sciarrone stretched the lead to two in the 45th minute. Following a strong shot from sophomore Baker Boyd that rung off the post, Sciarrone headed a loose ball into the net. The Gore Rangers cut their deficit in half four minutes later. Buzbee, who is on the short list for league MVP, all but sealed the win in the 64th minute. He charged down the right sideline during a one-on-one and somehow managed to find the net with a strong shot from a difficult angle.”He’s such a key player and he comes out in big games,” Anastas said. “When I’m in the middle and I’m looking to pass, it’s always nice to see Buzbee.” Buzbee’s goal in the 78th minute Sept. 23 against Basalt clinched a 3-1 victory – Aspen’s first against the rival Longhorns in more than five years. Buzbee scored both goals Oct. 3 to propel Aspen to the season sweep of the Longhorns. Saturday, he assisted on a fourth goal that put the game out of reach and the league title firmly in Aspen’s grasp.Sutherland inserted senior Boris Joseph, an exchange student from India who has seen time on junior varsity in recent weeks, into the lineup in the 63rd minute; he scored on his first touch four minutes later. Buzbee dribbled the ball through a crowd of Gore Rangers on the right side, then passed the ball to Joseph, who finished in front of the net.”After that loss to Vail, we wanted to prove we were better than just a good team,” Anastas said. “There’s still a lot more to come in states. This is something that every kid who plays soccer dreams about.”
The Skiers last won the Western Slope in 2000, when they advanced to the state championship game. They lost to Faith Christian, 3-2. Six season later, Aspen is again on top. Goal No. 1 – to take one game at a time – and No. 2 – to win the league – have been accomplished. One final regular-season game remains: Tuesday at Colorado Rocky Mountain School.Then, Aspen goes to work on goal No. 3 – a run at the state title.”This season is like a ladder, and we need to take one step at a time, all the way to the top,” Anastas said.”Every game from here on out is a state final,” Sutherland added.Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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