Did someone say playoffs? AHS to host three postseason games Wednesday | AspenTimes.com

Did someone say playoffs? AHS to host three postseason games Wednesday

Aspen's Maeve McGuire chases down the ball in the girls soccer team's homer opener against Montrose.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Wednesday’s playoff lineup

3 p.m. AHS girls soccer vs. Faith Christian

5:30 p.m. AHS girls lax vs. Air Academy

7:30 p.m. AHS boys lax vs. Evergreen

*All games will be played on the AHS turf

Aspen High School is set to become playoff nirvana on Wednesday when the Skiers host three postseason games in succession on the AHS turf.

Beginning at 3 p.m., the AHS girls soccer team will host Faith Christian in the opening round of the Class 3A state tournament. At 5:30 p.m., the AHS girls lacrosse team takes the field against Air Academy, while the boys lacrosse team has the 7:30 p.m. nightcap against Evergreen.

Also Wednesday, the Basalt High School girls soccer team will play a 4:30 p.m. game against Middle Park in Granby in the first round.

Here’s what to expect from each of Wednesday’s playoff games.

GIRLS SOCCER: No. 13 Aspen (11-3) vs. No. 20 Faith Christian (6-9)

AHS coach John Gillies knows plenty about Faith Christian from his days as the boys head coach. The two schools saw each other a few times on the pitch, including the 2000 3A state championship game, won by the Eagles in comeback fashion.

As for the girls, it’ll be a new experience. Since going 15-3-1 in 2012, Faith Christian has only had two seasons with double-digit wins, the last in 2016. The team finished 4-11 a season ago before limping to 6-9 this spring. Helping them out could be their strength of schedule, which was No. 5 in Class 3A.

Gillies won’t take anything for granted, though. The last time AHS won the league title before this season was in 2012. That year, as the No. 11 seed, Aspen lost 3-0 to No. 22 seed Denver Christian.

“We all know these girls have got skill. It’s about their mentality,” Gillies said. “I know now how much I need to get these girls focused.”

Faith Christian did not make the postseason in 2017, while Aspen was the No. 21 seed. The Skiers beat No. 12 seed and host Middle Park, 2-1, in the first round before falling 4-0 to No. 5 seed Peak to Peak in the second round.

The winner of Wednesday’s game will play Saturday at No. 4 seed The Academy (14-1) in the second round. The Wildcats have a first-round bye. The Academy won the 3A state title in 2017, beating Peak to Peak in the final.

Of note, keep an eye on AHS freshman Kelley Francis. According to Gillies, she is close to breaking the school’s single-season goals mark. She has 28 goals this spring.

GIRLS SOCCER: No. 19 Basalt (10-4-1) at No. 14 Middle Park (9-6)

It’s somewhat surprising that these two teams know nothing about each other as none of these girls have met on the pitch in their high school careers. They do, however, have a lot of common opponents to help connect the dots.

“It’s nice that we have some familiar opponents and we can kind of see where we line up, but we know it’s always going to be tough,” Basalt coach Andrew Huntsman said. “All of those matchups are kind of favorable to us, but it’s not something we can expect. We have to be ready to play hard.”

After seven straight wins, Middle Park limped to the finish with back-to-back losses. Those losses came against Roaring Fork and Aspen, both by scores of 2-0. Basalt beat Roaring Fork twice in the span of a week by scores of 4-2 and 2-0, which helped it sneak into the playoffs. The Longhorns split against Aspen this season, winning 5-2 on April 12 and losing 1-0 on April 26.

Another common opponent the teams had this season was SkyView Academy, which is the tournament’s No. 15 seed. Middle Park lost to the Hawks 5-1 on March 14, while Basalt beat SkyView 5-1 only two days earlier in the season opener.

Middle Park last won a playoff game in 2016, beating Colorado Springs Christian in the first round. The Panthers lost to Aspen in the first round last year.

As the No. 19 seed in 2017, Basalt knocked off No. 14 seed and host Salida in the first round, 4-0. BHS bowed out in the second round to No. 3 seed Manitou Springs, 3-1. The Longhorns had a strong contingent of underclassmen return from last season and will have that experience to guide them this week.

“The experience from last year will help out. I think the girls are maturing in their soccer as well,” Huntsman said. “They are all pretty excited. I’m proud of them and what they’ve done.”

The winner of Wednesday’s game will play Saturday at No. 3 seed Kent Denver in the second round. Basalt scrimmaged against the Sun Devils prior to the season.

GIRLS LACROSSE: No. 13 Aspen (11-3) vs. No. 20 Air Academy (8-7)

First-year coach Amanda Trendell believes Aspen girls lacrosse can win playoff games. She just needs her players to have that same faith in themselves.

“I have all the confidence in the world in this group,” Trendell said. “At the end of the day, though, I can have the confidence in them, it’s them that needs to have the confidence in each other.”

Aspen’s confidence should be sky high entering the postseason as it carries a six-game win streak into Wednesday’s showdown with Air Academy. In that span, the Skiers won 13-12 over Cheyenne Mountain and beat Conifer 14-5 in the regular-season finale.

AHS made easy work of the Western Slope teams, going 7-0 in league play, but has only had average success in recent years against the Front Range teams. Trendell plans on changing this.

“The biggest thing is the trust factor that we’ve been trying to build all season,” Trendell said. “Early in the season attack would have a really great day, or defense would have a great day, and there was never a really seamless kind of team dynamic.”

The Skiers have looked like a different team over the past few weeks compared to the one that lost 12-5 at Chatfield in the season opener. Air Academy comes in as a relative unknown, although the teams do have a few mutual opponents to compare and contrast. The Kadets beat Grand Junction 20-6 to open the season, a team AHS beat 11-8 on April 17 and again 16-5 on May 4.

Both teams also played Pine Creek, with Air Academy losing 17-9 on April 18 and Aspen losing 8-1 on April 14. Pine Creek is the No. 7 seed in the state tournament. Aspen and Air Academy have an almost identical strength of schedule.

“Going into it, it’s going into how we went into this season, which is focusing on ourselves and worrying about our game strategy and not so much about who the opponent is,” Trendell said. “I think that mentality has helped shape them.”

The winner of Wednesday’s game will play Thursday at No. 4 seed Regis Jesuit.

Of note, in the 20 years of Colorado high school girls lacrosse, Cherry Creek has won 10 state titles, while Colorado Academy is second with four. The only other teams to have won state titles are Kent Denver and Air Academy, with three each. The Kadets last won it all in 2014.

BOYS LACROSSE: No. 6 Aspen (12-2) vs. No. 11 Evergreen (12-3)

There doesn’t seem to be too much separating the teams on paper. The only reason Evergreen is that much farther down the pecking order in terms of seeding is its strength of schedule isn’t quite as impressive as Aspen’s, although that likely won’t mean much of anything entering Wednesday’s game.

“When it comes to the end of the day, the paper doesn’t win the game,” AHS coach David Miller said Monday. “We have two days to prepare for a team we’ve never seen and don’t know much about.”

Neither team has a bad loss to speak of. Aspen’s two losses came against Thompson Valley, the tournament’s No. 2 seed, and Steamboat Springs, the No. 5 seed.

Evergreen’s three losses came in succession against Littleton (No. 10 seed), Green Mountain (No. 9 seed) and Golden (No. 4 seed). The first two losses were in overtime, while Golden snuck away with a 10-8 win.

Aspen had Steamboat on the ropes before falling 9-8, and only trailed Thompson Valley 3-2 at halftime before eventually losing 12-5.

The winner of Wednesday’s game will get to face the winner of No. 14 seed Windsor and No. 3 seed Battle Mountain on Friday.

“I’m pretty excited,” Miller said of Wednesday. “It’s going to be great. I hope the town comes out to support everybody, because it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

The Skiers are looking for their first playoff win since 2015, when they won the 4A state title.

acolbert@aspentimes.com


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