Colbert’s Prep Playbook: Do you remember 2018? Me neither.
They say summer is short in the mountains. The fact that practice started Monday for fall high school sports certainly brings home that reality.
With the prep season basically here, I figure this is a good time to bring back my weekly Prep Playbook column. It’ll run Tuesdays and be about whatever I feel like talking about that week (although I’m open to suggestions). Keep in mind this is a column, not a news story, so I have the right to get more opinionated than usual.
Since I don’t know a whole lot about this year’s teams yet, let’s use this Prep Playbook to talk about last fall. Below is a quick recap of how each team from Aspen and Basalt did a year ago, to refresh all of our memories. I cover 14 teams (why are there so many?!) in the fall between the two schools, so I’m writing this more for my benefit than anything else. But I’m sure there is something in here that will refresh your memory.
I’m no longer in high school, but I still have to do my homework.
They started first, so they get to go first here. Maybe you don’t remember this, but the AHS golf team was pretty good last year. Like, they won the first state championship in program history good. With a foursome comprised of Jack Hughes, Jack Pevny, Dawson Holmes and Dominic Lanese (with a shoutout to Colter Zwieg), the team cruised to the 3A state title at Boulder Country Club, winning by nine strokes over mighty Kent Denver. Hughes was state runner-up, Pevny was fourth and Holmes 13th. Sadly, only Pevny is back this fall after the rest graduated.
Basalt, under first-year coach Joseph Fries, finished a solid sixth in 3A last fall. They weren’t remotely in the same league as Aspen, but really nobody was. Holden Kleager did the best of any Longhorn, finishing tied for 16th overall at state. Young Tyler Sims, then only a sophomore, tied for 33rd in Boulder alongside teammate Blake Exelbert. Kleager is gone, but Sims and Exelbert are back this season.
Steve Sand, who also coaches the AHS girls in the spring, took over the boys program last fall and continued on with the same success they’ve had for years. The Skiers sent all 11 players to the 4A state tournament in Pueblo last fall, finishing seventh as a team. Senior Alex Ilic unfortunately ended his career with a first-round loss, but sophomore Christian Kelly got a nice win at No. 2 singles before bowing out. Top to bottom, it was a pretty young team last fall, which bodes well for this season.
The Basalt team did not get anyone to the state tournament last year, but it was their first season. Ever. Brothers Kent and Karl Oliver took the program’s reins in their inaugural season and are back for another go this fall. At some point soon, some Longhorn will become the first to make state in program history. That should be plenty of incentive for anyone to practice hard.
The 2018 season was one of the best in recent memory for Aspen cross country. The Skiers sent their boys and girls teams to the state meet after both took third at regionals, which they hosted at Aspen Golf Club. It was the second consecutive appearance at state for the girls team, while the boys made it as a team for the first time since 2013. The boys finished 17th at state behind a senior-laden group, while the much younger girls finished seventh. The top six finishers for the AHS girls were underclassmen a year ago, so dare to dream with the 2019 squad.
Basalt’s team results weren’t quite there at the Aspen regional last fall, meaning pretty much the entire squad had to stay home for the state meet. That exception was rising superstar Sierra Bower, who last fall as a sophomore won the regional en route to a 24th-place finish at state. Bower has done some impressive things since, such as coming in second place at the state track meet in the 2-mile race in a sprint finish. Based on that, Bower should be among the state title favorites this fall in cross country. Also, the Longhorns host regionals this season at Crown Mountain Park.
Sept. 17, 2018: The day the streak ended. No, Aspen softball wasn’t all that great last fall, winning a single game all season. But, that win — 19-18 over Gunnison — was the first for AHS softball since the 2009 season. Keep in mind, they didn’t have a team in 2010 or 2011, but still. That’s quite the streak to break. I’d like to say the team can maybe build off that win, but it graduated basically its entire roster from last fall, so the Skiers are more or less starting from scratch again.
Basalt was among the more perplexing teams last year. Plenty of returning talent under first-year coach David Miller, the Longhorns jumped out to a 7-0 record and got as high as No. 8 in 3A in the weekly rankings. Unfortunately, the team went 2-10 down the stretch, including eight straight losses to finish 9-10 overall. It was the classic tale of two teams and your guess is as good as mine on this season.
Aspen narrowly missed the playoffs in 2016 and 2017 but thanks to a stronger RPI snuck into the 2018 field as the No. 31 seed. Facing No. 2 Kent Denver in the first round, the Skiers lost 4-0 to finish the season 6-9 overall. Kent went on to win yet another state championship. It was by no means a bad year for the Skiers — they did sweep rival Basalt — but also finished in the bottom half of the league. They said goodbye to a lot of senior talent last fall, but should bring back enough to be hopeful for this season.
After going 11-6 in 2016, Basalt had a lot of ups and downs, finishing 5-9-1 in 2017 and 7-9 last fall. However, that 2018 group, which was reasonably dysfunctional at the start, began to look pretty solid by the end of the season. The Longhorns started 1-5 overall — the win a somewhat shocking one over a good KIPP Denver team — before winning six of their next eight games. They made state as the No. 26 seed, losing 2-0 to No. 7 Faith Christian in the first round. Faith was jettisoned a round later by No. 23 The Academy, which Kent Denver destroyed in the quarterfinals.
After winning 12 games in 2008, the AHS program wouldn’t get to double digits again until going 11-11 in 2016, the final season under Matt Bergdahl. Year 1 under coach Bailey Holmes in 2017 saw a 13-8 record, with everything coming together in 2018 under Holmes. With many experienced seniors, notably the setter-hitter duo of Gaia Murphy and Mary Williams, Aspen went 18-7 overall and finished third in league play. It was one of the best seasons in recent memory for AHS volleyball, and could be tough to duplicate. Former assistant coach Brittany Zanin is now in charge and the team graduated most of its players from last fall, so there might be some growing pains all around in 2019. But there’s a reason we play the games, right?
Basalt’s recent history is somewhat similar to Aspen’s. After going 13-9 in 2008, the Longhorns wouldn’t reach double digits (or even seven wins, for that matter) until a breakthrough 11-12 campaign in 2017 under first-year coaches David Chadbourne and Amy Trautman, who had one of those experienced, senior-laden groups to coach. The 2018 season was a major step back, with BHS going 6-16 with a roster of mostly underclassmen. They did show some spunk, however, and assuming most of those players are back this fall, getting back to double-digit wins might be in reach.
Yes, I had a lot of doubts about last year’s AHS team, but I had legit reasons. After back-to-back 2-7 campaigns, Karson Pike turned the Skiers into contenders in his second and final season in 2017, the team going a shocking 8-2 overall. He left for a college job, with AHS grad and former head coach Travis Benson taking over (again) in 2018. Notably missing was longtime quarterback R.J. Peshek, who graduated, so yeah, there was reason to doubt. All the Skiers did was have the defending state champs (Bayfield) on the ropes, stunned eventual league champ Rifle on the road (I still don’t know how they pulled that off) and came within a few plays of winning the league title themselves (Basalt put an end to that dream in the regular-season finale). Aspen finished the season 6-4 and made the playoffs behind an electric offense led by sophomore Tyler Ward and two stud receivers (Max Ufkes and Noah Hollander). Hollander graduated, but the Ward-Ufkes connection should be alive and well again.
All good things must come to an end, like Basalt’s run as league champs. Not that 2018 wasn’t terrific for the Longhorns. Rifle, a 2A WSL newcomer, took the league title from BHS last fall based off its head-to-head win, even though each team finished 4-1 in league play. The 35-14 loss at Rifle was the only loss of the regular season for the Longhorns, which went into the 2A playoffs as the No. 3 seed and hosted a state quarterfinal game for the first time in program history, a 46-9 loss to No. 6 Platte Valley. La Junta beat Platte Valley in the state championship game, 7-3. Basalt finished 9-2 for the second straight season, but graduated a very good QB (Trevor Reuss) and very good RB (Jake Reardon). Still, there is no reason to think the Longhorns aren’t WSL contenders yet again this fall. They’ve earned that respect.
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