Aspen’s Buzbee earns Slope MVP
Thursday’s 3A state semifinal was an 80-minute struggle for Aspen’s Stephen Buzbee.The senior forward, slowed by an ankle injury he suffered days earlier in practice, hobbled up and down the pitch at Englewood High School. He could not shake a host of Denver Christian defenders who continually swarmed him. He swapped his crutches and a hard plastic boot for cleats before game time, but could not give his team the score it needed to overcome a late deficit.For the first time all season, Buzbee looked human.”I have no idea how he did it,” Aspen head coach Junior Sutherland said Tuesday. “He was back on crutches Friday. That shows what kind of heart and character he has.” The loss to Denver Christian ended an otherwise brilliant season for the forward. And for his efforts, the 3A Western Slope’s coaches named Buzbee the MVP for a second consecutive season. He shared the honor in 2005 with Basalt senior Felipe Sanchez.Former Basalt standout Cyrus Eaton (2003-04) was the last player to win back-to-back league MVP honors.Despite being the prime target of opposing defenses, Buzbee tallied 10 assists and a league-best 29 goals – the third-highest total in all of 3A. Opposing defenses managed to hold him scoreless just once in 18 games. Last season, Buzbee found the net 19 times.
Buzbee, the catalyst for an Aspen offense that scored 84 goals, was most dangerous on the biggest stages. He scored three goals in two state tournament games against Colorado Springs Christian and Classical Academy. He notched one score in Aspen’s 3-1 win Sept. 23 at Basalt – the first-ever home loss for the Longhorns’ seniors. The win snapped the Skiers’ five-year drought against their downvalley rivals.Two weeks later, he scored two goals against Basalt – including the game-winner in the 70th minute – in a 2-1 home win. For those who lined up opposite Buzbee this season, deciding the league’s best player was obvious. “Stephen lived up to expectations,” Longhorns senior Ryan Zubizarreta told The Aspen Times on Oct. 3. “He had two of the best goals I’ve ever seen.”Sutherland called Buzbee one of the top two or three players he’s ever coached.”He brings so much to the game,” Sutherland added. “He battles for everything. He creates a lot of his own goals and forces defenses to make mistakes. Everyone knew he was a great player. He was hungry and wanted it more than anyone.”It’s a shame we didn’t have him fit for that [semifinal].”
The Skiers were rewarded for one of the school’s most successful seasons. Buzbee was one of six Aspen players to make the Slope’s first team. Seniors Nicky Anastas, Ryder Fyrwald, Ryan Chaloupka, Andy Conarroe and junior Tyler Moore all garnered recognition. Sophomores Jesus Meza and Baker Boyd made the second team as did senior Bo Gallagher. Sutherland, in his last year at the helm of the Skiers, was coach of the year.”We had an amazing season, no question,” Sutherland said. “I feel for these kids because they wanted it so bad.”Anastas, an unquestioned leader, was second on the team with 12 goals and 16 assists.”For a forward, those numbers are great. For a center midfielder, they’re fantastic,” Sutherland said. “He’s one of those kids where this is his life. This is his passion.”Fyrwald made the switch to sweeper in 2006 and wreaked havoc on opposing defenses, Sutherland said. He won the majority of balls in the air and helped thwart opposing attacks. He even contributed on offense with four goals.”He was like a rock back there,” Sutherland said. “He’s a great leader, and everyone responds to him.”Conarroe, like many of his teammates, battled through injuries for much of the season, while providing stellar goalkeeping. He injured his right shoulder Sept. 30 in a collision with a Vail Mountain School defender in a loss but was on the field four days later at Basalt, turning away desperation shots late in the second quarter.
“No matter what I asked, he always said he was ready. No matter what, he was playing in those big games,” Sutherland said. “Every time he dove to the right, my heart would stop.”Moore and Boyd, who combined for 19 goals and eight assists, will be a formidable offensive duo next season.”[Boyd’s] the most naturally gifted of any player I’ve ever coached at that age,” Sutherland said. “If he comes back for his junior and senior years, he’s going to dominate.”While the season ended in disappointing fashion, Sutherland said it was important to look at the bigger picture. His Skiers won the outright league title, went undefeated at home and advanced to the state semifinals for the first time since 2000. Buzbee and Aspen produced a season Sutherland and others won’t soon forget.”I hope that someday a college gives Buzbee a chance. He’s an asset to any school,” Sutherland said. “He has the skill, the toughness, the vision and the passion. “This didn’t happen overnight, but suddenly everything seemed to click. I loved being around these kids this year. It was so rewarding.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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Aspen Mountain opened for the season on Wednesday, a day earlier than originally planned. Top-to-bottom snowmaking, a solid recent storm and well-behaved guests made for a great experience despite all of the extra precautions.