Basalt’s triple threat on a roll
BASALT To teammates, they’re known as “Sparkles,” “Stewart” and “Kitty.” To the competition, they might as well be called the three-headed purple goal-scoring monster from Basalt. With 53 goals between them, Katie Staerkel, Melissa Stewart and Kat Fitzpatrick are 3A’s most prolific offensive threesome – and a collective nightmare for opposing defenses.Thus far, their schedule has played out like a grind house slasher flick. There have been no survivors in 15 matches against 3A teams this season – a trail of lopsided victories that starts with an 11-0 rout of Olathe in early March and last stops at Wednesday’s 6-0 win over Front Range Christian in the first round of the state playoffs. In two games against Rangely – the only other postseason qualifier from the Western Slope – the three combined for 11 goals and seven assists. Staerkel scored three goals and assisted on another three in the first game, an 8-0 rout, while Stewart netted two and assisted on two others. In the second meeting early last month, Fitzpatrick made up for her unremarkable one-assist showing in the first game with a hat trick and an assist. Stewart again had two goals and two assists while Staerkel had another goal and two assists. Even scarier, when Staerkel, a four-year varsity starter and two-time all-league selection, was out of the lineup for the last two weeks of the regular season nursing a sprained ankle, Stewart and Fitzpatrick turned into more dangerous players. Fitzpatrick moved from midfielder to fill Staerkel’s spot up front, and the two juniors teamed up to lift Basalt to blowout wins over its fiercest rivals, Aspen and Vail Mountain School.The pair accounted for all the scoring in a 5-2 win over the Skiers (Fitzpatrick four goals, Stewart one) and four out of the six goals against VMS (Fitzpatrick three, Stewart 1). Stewart also had two assists in the VMS rout, which came just two weeks after the Gore Rangers limited Basalt to just one goal in Vail.
“It was a blessing in disguise,” Basalt coach Chris Woods said. “Kat and Melissa both have looked up to Katie, and have learned from her, but when she wasn’t there it made them step up.””I put more pressure on myself,” said Fitzpatrick, who, after her late season offensive explosion, trails Staerkel’s team-leading 20 goals by just two. “Those were really tough shoes to even try to fill. Melissa and I have been playing together for a while, though, and it wasn’t a hard position to adjust to. We both stepped up and worked really well together.”Staerkel made her return to the pitch Wednesday when she logged a scant 20 minutes in Basalt’s 6-0 first-round playoff win over the 15th-seeded Falcons. (Front Range Christian is a 2A school, but was forced to enter the 3A bracket because there aren’t enough 2A postseason qualifiers.) She is expected to start today’s second-round playoff game against 10th-seeded Classical Academy with a berth in the state quarterfinals on the line.With Basalt at full strength, Woods believes his team is built for a state championship run. In the same breath, he insists his team isn’t overlooking anyone.To be certain, Classical Academy won’t be overlooking Staerkel, Stewart or Fitzpatrick – though stopping all three is another matter entirely.”All three of them are natural goal scorers,” Woods said. “Their desire to win and prove themselves is pretty similar. They’re just naturally gifted girls with great soccer brains.”
Naturally different players, too.”We all have different strengths that come together perfectly,” Fitzpatrick said. “I think Melissa has great dribbling skills and a great vision of the field.” “Katie has the best shot,” added Stewart, who has 16 goals this season. “She can score from anywhere.”As for Fitzpatrick, or “Kitty” to her teammates, she is undeniably the fastest of the three.”Her speed is deadly on the outside,” Staerkel said. “She knows how to use that against opponents and really exploit it. She can also move up front and take over that spot and play awesome.”Woods admitted that the progression of Stewart and Fitzpatrick this season has surprised him. He was aware of the players they could be, but didn’t necessarily expect them to evolve as fast as they have.
“Kat has come on leaps and bounds since last year,” he said. “And Melissa, this is only her second year … It’s neat, because Katie learned from the girls who played ahead of her, and now Kat has learned from Katie, and Melissa has learned things from Kat. They’re all really good friends, and they really gel and learn from each other.”Fitzpatrick echoes the sentiment, noting that Staerkel, or “Sparkles”, taught her and Stewart what it takes to succeed at the varsity level. The mental tools were just as important as the physical ones.”We watched her when we were in middle school and she was playing as a freshman,” Fitzpatrick said. “She’s been kind of tough on us, but it was because she was pushing us to get better. She’s expected a lot from us, in a good way.”Staerkel is certainly proud of how far her two junior teammates have come – and ecstatic, too, that opposing teams can no longer solely focus on stopping her.”When I sat out for those three games, they did tremendous,” she said. “It was awesome to see. Earlier this season, I had people marking me wherever I went. That definitely does get irritating. Now that’s hard to do because those two can step up at any time.”Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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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.