Aspen, Roaring Fork renew hoops rivalry |

Aspen, Roaring Fork renew hoops rivalry

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox Post Independent

ASPEN – By any measure – from the standout players and the late-game heroics to the conference and state tournament implications – Aspen versus Roaring Fork has emerged as the most compelling rivalry in 3A Western Slope hoops.

A new chapter will be written Thursday, when the two collide at 7 p.m. at Aspen High and the race for the conference crown begins in earnest.

While his team has played just four games, Skiers head coach Steve Ketchum is billing this showdown as the most important on the 2011-12 schedule. He even convinced athletic director Carol Sams to waive the admission fee for all Aspen elementary and middle school students who wear red or black in an effort to pack the stands.

“It’s going to be huge,” the coach proclaimed. “This is like Ali-Frazier. Somebody is going to throw a knockout punch sooner or later. My guess is it’s going to be a great game.”

If recent history is any indication, tonight’s tussle should produce plenty of drama.

In January 2008, Aspen escaped Carbondale with a 61-57 victory that snapped the Rams’ 53-game conference win streak – one that stretched nearly five seasons.

Little more than a month later, a Michael Taylor dunk in the waning seconds helped the Skiers end Roaring Fork’s four-year reign as Slope champions.

The Rams returned the favor last winter. They snapped an eight-game losing streak against their upvalley rivals in January. After a double-overtime loss to Aspen in February, Roaring Fork pulled out a 60-55, rubber-match victory in the district tournament championship in Palisade to deny the Skiers a four-peat and the opportunity to host the first two rounds of the state tournament.

Ketchum believes the Rams are the clear league title front-runner this season.

“I’ve scouted them a couple times and heard from other sources, and they’re really clicking on all cylinders,” Ketchum said.

Roaring Fork enters tonight with a modest 2-3 record, albeit against 4A competition. It dropped games to Steamboat Springs and Glenwood Springs to open the season, but responded with two wins in its last three contests – a 46-44 win over the Demons on Dec. 9 and a 57-47 triumph over the Eagle Valley Devils on Dec. 16. (Eagle Valley bested an undermanned Aspen squad, 55-46, in Dec. 2’s season opener.)

The Skiers (2-2) have showed signs of life following their two-game slide during the season’s first weekend. They pulled out a 48-47 victory over Steamboat on Dec. 12, then returned to the court one day later and routed Glenwood, 63-35.

“I’m still shaking my head about that one. I’m not sure what happened,” Ketchum admitted.

“I feel like most coaches do at this point – we need more practice time and are looking a little rough around the edges right now. … We finished off on a really high note (before the break), but we have a long way to go. I think we’re heading in the right direction, though.”

While it has been battling illness and injuries – notably to key contributor Trent Lichtenwalter, who has been shelved for the last week after rolling his ankle in practice – Aspen will be buoyed by the return of Jake Nugent. The senior, who broke his foot in the Skiers’ football playoff game in Eaton, will see his first action of the season tonight.

He and star transfer Austin Roark likely will draw the unenviable assignment of trying to slow Rams big man Trae Moxley.

“They have a monster in the middle who’s great around the rim, they’re solid at the perimeter spots. … They’re probably the most balanced team and the best-coached team I’ve seen so far,” Ketchum said. “I watched them play, and it reminds me of how I’d like us to play.

“This game will tell us most everything we need to know about our team right now, how much better we need to get to compete against the elite teams in the league. It’s going to be exciting.”

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