Basalt soccer aiming to sustain, not rebuild |

Basalt soccer aiming to sustain, not rebuild

Jon Maletz
Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

Things are changing for the Basalt boys soccer team. The signs are everywhere. The early-morning yoga sessions. The practice drills patterned after rugby. The mile runs. The medieval-style start to scrimmages, where teams line up on opposing goal lines and sprint toward midfield to seize control of an idle ball. It’s a scene that conjures up images of “Braveheart.” This year’s Longhorns will operate under a new system and a new attitude, first-year head coach John McDermott said Tuesday. The native of Nottingham, England, is hoping, however, that one thing remains the same: winning. The task before McDermott, a former Gentlemen of Aspen player, is a tall one. The Longhorns, who advanced to the 3A state semifinals in 2005 for a second straight year and won 15 games, lost 11 seniors, nine of them starters. Noticeably absent on the field Tuesday was former standout forward Felipe Sanchez, who shared Western Slope MVP honors with Aspen’s Stephen Buzbee one year ago.”I applied for this job because I thought of it as a challenge,” said McDermott, who recently relocated from Grand Junction. “Everyone needs challenges in their lives.” Under former coach Erik Streff, Basalt averaged 13 wins the past five seasons. The program’s last conference loss came on Oct. 1, 2002. Talk about high expectations.Because of the loss of a talented group of Longhorns, many around the league have declared 2006 a rebuilding year for the perennial Western Slope power. Don’t tell that that to senior midfielder Trevor Brown or to senior forward Ryan Zubizaretta, the team’s lone returning all-league selection.

“That’s not our mindset,” Brown said. “That’s not what we want for our senior year.”The team relishes the chance to silence the naysayers, said senior Michael Kane, a transfer from Colorado Rocky Mountain School.”We want to prove everyone wrong,” he said. “There are a lot of doubters in the area. This is a new experience for us, but I think it’s a good thing. It’ll bring the best out of us.”Despite the key departures, those that remain form a talented and deep, albeit inexperienced, group. As many as 14 players are vying for 11 starting spots.All 18 on the roster will see considerable playing time, said McDermott, who grew up playing soccer and who has coached his own children’s teams at various levels.”Many of these kids weren’t given a chance [last year],” he added. “This is a good working bunch. These kids are out here to play, and they know it.”Among those McDermott expects to have a major impact this season is Zubizaretta, a player Streff called the “heart of the team.” Zubizaretta finished 2005 with nine goals and six assists.Senior Reto Luzi will finally has his chance in goal after spending three years watching all-league keeper Jamie Wirkler from the sidelines. Wirkler notched 70 saves and allowed just 10 goals last season. Opponents went nearly a month – Sept. 20 to Oct. 18 – without scoring on Basalt, a streak that spanned seven games.

While Wirkler will be tough to replace, both McDermott and teammates agree that Luzi will turn heads.”He’s a small guy but he can leap over tall buildings in a single bound,” Zubizaretta said.”When he’s in goal, it’s like an aerial display.” McDermott said.The Basalt of old will not completely disappear. The team’s strength continues to be its speed. The Longhorns will rely on the ability of its forwards and midfielders to work the ball, a skill that set them apart from the competition in recent years. “We don’t have any standouts, any stars who are going for goals and the glory,” Kane said. “Working together will be our key to success.”The Longhorns’ propensity for playing a finesse style of soccer has limited their physical play, McDermott said. The coach has hearkened back to his days on the rugby pitch to increase the team’s aggressiveness. Slide tackling as well as other rugby drills have been implemented, and the team has worked to raise their stamina levels to both withstand and initiate contact for a full game. Yoga will help the players learn about body awareness, and reduce injuries.”It’s the same game except that one guy picked up the ball one day,” McDermott said. “The only difference is in soccer you do all the work with your feet. The support and tackling is the same. You have to fall down and pick yourself up.” While they’ve had little more than two weeks of practice – McDermott is still unsure where some of his players will line up – the team’s toughest two-game stretch of the season commences this weekend. The Longhorns play at Denver Christian and Kent Denver Friday and Saturday, respectively. Kent Denver lost to eventual 3A champion Peak to Peak in last season’s semifinals; Denver Christian, a 12-win team in 2005, was ousted by the Pumas in the quarterfinal round.

This weekend’s challenge will help Basalt gauge its progress, but it won’t define the season, Brown said.”It’ll be a good test, but we can’t judge everything by how we do against the two best teams in 3A,” he said. “Our goal is to win the league.” Should they come out on top in 2005, it would be Basalt’s sixth consecutive league crown. It’s a feat that would catch many by surprise, including rival Aspen, whose 10 seniors are eager for their first title.Basalt is unheralded for the first time in years. The position suits McDermott and the Longhorns just fine.”We’re not rated, but I like being like that,” McDermott said. “We’ll come from underneath and take it one by one.”These guys want it. I can see that.” Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is