Aspen lacrosse’s playoff hopes take a hit
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
ASPEN – Early in the first quarter, the Aspen boys lacrosse team looked evenly matched with Grand Junction. The teams exchanged goals five minutes in until the visiting Tigers took control, and the Skiers offense got cold.
Grand Junction (6-4) scored 12 unanswered goals as Aspen (8-2) couldn’t find the back of the net again until the fourth quarter. Despite a last-quarter surge, the Skiers fell, 13-8, and now hope for an at-large bid for the state playoffs.
“This is the big week for us,” Aspen head coach Mike Goerne said. “We play Steamboat on Thursday, and we knew we had to get both of these games. There will have to be some crazy upsets for us to make the playoffs now.”
From the outset, the Skiers struggled to win possession against a physical Tigers midfield. After Tyler Tick scored Aspen’s first goal of the game, Grand Junction controlled the ball from the faceoff and executed a very fluid and controlled offense.
“The whole idea today was to get good off-ball movement,” Tigers head coach James States said. “Kris States has a good corner shot. So our goal was for him to shoot in the top corner. We found him wide open all the time, and he put them in.”
Facing a tall and dominating Grand Junction front line, the Skiers’ defensive players struggled with staying on their men, instead following the ball as it moved around the perimeter.
“We made them pressure the ball, and that gave us the off-ball, wide-open guy on the crease every time,” States said.
“They played off-ball very well. Our defense got caught on our heels,” Goerne added.
The Tigers kept up the pressure and utilized States’ scoring acumen. The junior scored seven goals, most within five yards of Skiers goalkeeper Jordan Cottrell.
States had numerous opportunities to score, as Aspen won just one faceoff out of 12 in the first half. The Skiers also surrendered the ball as the team struggled with passing and winning ground balls.
“There are certain statistics you have to win in lacrosse,” Goerne said. “So not only did they score, but they got the ball back with the faceoff.”
Aspen did catch a break in the second quarter when Tigers defender Ryan Arnold flicked a pass back to his goalkeeper. The ball went past Kolton Flick and found the back of the net.
The Skiers could not capitalize on the own-goal and got shut out in the third quarter. Flick, after giving up the own-goal, stood tall in front of the net for a total of 15 saves in the game.
Aspen did wake up offensively in the fourth quarter, scoring six straight goals. Tick and Cole Bond led the charge for Aspen, each scoring two goals.
But it was too little, too late.
“I’m proud of the kids,” Goerne said. “They didn’t sit down at all in the game. To come back and score six goals in the fourth quarter is pretty incredible.”
While there are four games remaining on the Skiers’ schedule, Goerne said that league powerhouse Steamboat Springs (10-1) most likely will take the automatic bid to the playoffs barring a late-season upset.
If Steamboat holds on, Aspen’s only hope rests in the hands of the state’s lacrosse coaches, who will vote on 16 more teams to proceed to the playoffs. The coaches look at state rankings and strength of schedule in deciding whom to vote for.
“The Mountain Conference is the youngest and newest conference,” Goerne said. “We’ve never received a second seed to the playoffs. We’re definitely getting better, however.”
The Skiers visit Steamboat at 4 p.m. Thursday.
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The dual-sport student-athlete was named to the Class 3A Western Slope League all-conference first team for softball as one of two Carbondale players on the Basalt High School softball team team last fall.