Colbert’s Prep Playbook: Aspen boys basketball a go; hockey ranked
And we’re back.
My weekly Prep Playbook column returns just in time for the first Aspen High School boys basketball game of the season. The Skiers host Rifle Tuesday, Dec. 4, inside the AHS gymnasium, with varsity scheduled to start at 7 p.m., after the junior varsity game.
Aspen enters its third season under coach Alex Schrempf — son of former NBA all-star Detlef Schrempf — with higher expectations as the current coaching staff is finally starting to establish the program based on its own blueprint.
“I moved here as a basketball player who loves to snowboard, so this is hands down my favorite time of the year because both of them are in season,” Schrempf told me Monday. “I have a lot of optimism. We are starting to see this work that we are doing pay off. I think we have the potential for this year to be one of our first breakout years as a program in a little while.”
The Skiers haven’t finished a season above .500 since going 19-5 in 2013-14, the final year under longtime coach Steve Ketchum. Under Ketchum, AHS had one of the best programs in the state, highlighted by the 2009-10 team that went 26-1, the only loss coming in the 3A state championship game.
Aspen went 9-11 (2014-15) and 6-14 (2015-16) in two seasons under Rolf Schildman, who took over after Ketchum. AHS went 9-12 in Schrempf’s first season but after losing so many seniors dropped to only 4-16 last winter, easily the program’s worst record in recent memory.
However, with five experienced seniors back in the fold for 2018-19 and plenty of talent after that, maybe this will be the year Aspen basketball takes a positive step in its hopeful return to elite status.
“It’s going to take a lot on our end. It’s going to take a lot of focus and a lot of selflessness from our guys,” Schrempf said. “There is some good energy. They are really committed. They are holding themselves accountable to the little things, and that’s what we’ve been trying to get to for the last couple of years. I’m really hoping that leads to some results on the court.”
Class 4A Rifle won 19 games as recently as the 2015-16 season, but finished a dismal 2-21 last winter, the first under coach Kyle Daniell.
After hosting the Bears, Aspen will head to the Cowboy Shootout hosted by Meeker, where it will face the host Cowboys on Thursday night in the tournament opener. Rifle will also play in the Meeker tournament.
“I’m liking where we sit and what our potential is for this season,” Schrempf said. “We got guys showing up and fighting for their spots because there are only so many and a lot of people want to be part of it.”
Note: Unlike most of the league games later in the season, Tuesday’s games with Rifle will be boys only. The AHS girls (1-2) are off until hosting Hotchkiss on Saturday.
BUSY WEEK FOR AHS HOCKEY
It’s worth noting that the Aspen High School hockey team has found itself in the CHSAANow.com polls this week. Unranked in the preseason, AHS (0-0-1) is now No. 9 in the state after playing to a 4-4 tie with then-No. 2 Valor Christian in the season opener.
Valor, which dropped to No. 3 this week, is 2-0-1 after beating Battle Mountain and Resurrection Christian. Monarch (2-0) went from No. 3 to No. 2 and is receiving one of the nine first-place votes. The other eight went to No. 1 Regis Jesuit.
Speaking of Regis, Aspen will host the defending state champions on Saturday at Lewis Ice Arena. Before that, however, the Skiers will host Summit on Wednesday night and then host Battle Mountain on Friday night.
Aspen, Summit and Battle Mountain are all in the new Peak Conference, part of this year’s realignment. The Peak Conference is essentially hockey’s version of the Western Slope League, with the other teams being Crested Butte, Glenwood Springs and Steamboat Springs.
Geographically speaking, the new conference alignment should lead to more interesting and natural rivalries for Aspen hockey. It’s especially fun with Crested Butte, which usually plays a classification lower in most sports, and Glenwood, which usually plays a classification higher. Those two schools, despite their proximity to Aspen, rarely play meaningful games against each other in any sport.
Hockey will change that. Aspen’s first game after the holiday break will be Jan. 4 at Glenwood Springs. The Demons come to Aspen on Jan. 11.
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Tanner Jadwin and Matthew Boyles got to make their X Games Aspen debut last weekend when the two Challenge Aspen athletes competed in the Special Olympics Unified Sports races on Jan. 21.