Aspen High School softball team chasing progress more than wins as season starts
Skiers open play Saturday against Durango in Grand Junction
Like so many seasons, the Aspen High School softball team didn’t win many games last fall. In fact, it didn’t win any games at all, but this isn’t a team that necessarily defines success in that way.
After battling through a difficult season overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic, if there is one lesson the players brought into this fall is how much they love the game. One would have to when COVID-19 made so many other factors of life far from enjoyable.
“Last year I really think we persevered. Despite COVID and despite everything we always kept our heads up, even if there were complications with scheduling, with mask wearing, anything,” Aspen senior pitcher and outfielder Hannah Smith said ahead of Wednesday’s practice. “We all just stuck it out and we all really helped each other out. I was really excited to get out this year because last year we had a lot of new members and we really worked hard last year and I was really excited to see what everybody has learned and I’m really excited to see what we can all do this year.”
Aspen softball was one of the few true team sports to have actually played last fall like normal; boys soccer, volleyball and football all played this past spring in an odd and delayed season because of the pandemic. The Skiers are still searching for their first win since beating Gunnison back in the fall of 2018, a win they had been searching nearly a decade for.
Not even a week into practice ahead of the 2021 season and it’s much too early to tell if the Skiers can add to their bleak win totals. But the fact the roster includes 15 players — a strong number for the program — and includes nearly all the available players that could have returned from a year ago is a sign the group is excited to be there.
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“Last year we ended on an OK note and our first practice on Monday, we just picked right up where we left off and it was really great,” junior first baseman and outfielder Ella Zane said. “I’m really excited. When I came as a freshman, a lot of my friends came with me. So we’ve got a strong group of girls that have been playing for two solid years straight. I think we are going to improve a lot.”
The pandemic season of 2020 will most be remembered for all of the odd rules. For instance, teams weren’t allowed to use their dugouts, shake hands with opposing opponents, and masks were everywhere. Fans were few and far between, outside of a few rebellious parents who found a way to watch from the perimeter.
As it stands, the 2021 fall softball season should feel normal, as in pre-pandemic, as long as local and state rules don’t change dramatically with the rising COVID-19 cases.
“The benefit of it is it allowed all the girls to stay engaged and decide they really did like the game,” longtime AHS coach Dave Fuentes said of the pandemic season. “They are dedicated because they did a lot of work in the offseason to work on their skills and keep trying to get a little bit better. And it showed … the first couple of practices have been really positive. I’m cautiously optimistic that we are going to put together a really competitive team.”
The Skiers have a small but dedicated group of seniors, led by Smith and Nikki Harris. Behind that is a strong group of juniors and sophomores, including sophomore Maddie McAllister, who is likely to be the team’s primary pitcher. Behind that are a couple of freshmen who are already making a bit of noise and should see the field plenty this season.
Despite the first practice having only been Monday, Aspen is set to jump into action on Saturday with a season-opening doubleheader against Durango, played in Grand Junction. The Skiers then host a pair of games against Cedaredge next Thursday before a single game at Basalt on Aug. 24 will send them on a long break because of experiential education.
“The winning has never really been important to me. I’ve always just looked at how much progress everybody has made,” Smith said. “I’m looking at this year like the more team bonding we have and the more we are all collaborative and work together and keep our heads up — I’m just looking for good attitudes and people trying their best. I think that’s the only thing I’m looking for this year. I’ve never really cared too much about the wins.”
Basalt, which has a new head coach this season in Amy Bollock — formerly an assistant with the team — doesn’t open its season until playing at a tournament Aug. 20 and 21, hosted by Class 3A preseason No. 1 Eaton. The Longhorns’ first home game will be that Aug. 24 contest against the Skiers.
Of note, former BHS softball standout Emily Hendershot, a 2018 graduate, is on board as an assistant coach with Aspen this fall.
Neither Aspen nor Basalt received any votes to be ranked in the preseason poll through CHSAA. The highest representative from the region is Delta, which is effectively No. 12 to open the season. Cedaredge also received a couple of votes.
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Aspen High School senior Nic Pevny successfully defended his individual regional title Tuesday and the AHS boys golf team will head to the state tournament as the regional champion for the 12th time in 13 seasons. Basalt qualified three players to state after finishing third as a team.