Hoops action heats up this weekend in Aspen
Aspen Times Sportswriter
It’s rivalry weekend in the Roaring Fork Valley as Aspen High’s boys and girls hoops teams host Carbondale’s Roaring Fork High on Friday and Basalt on Saturday.
Meanwhile, tonight Basalt travels to Cedaredge. For the girls, it’ll be a battle of unbeatens in the Class 3A Western Slope League. The Basalt girls, 14-1 overall and 7-0 in league, tip off with Cedaredge (15-1, 7-0) to determine league dominance heading toward the playoffs.
On Saturday, the Basalt girls face Aspen, the No. 5 team in the league at 9-5, 3-2.
“We do have a tall order this weekend,” said Debbie Alcorta, coach of the BHS girls. “But this is what makes great teams, and it’s very exciting for us.”
Basalt boasts five players who are averaging 10-plus points per game, led by junior guard Mariah Mulcahy and followed by sophomores Autumn Caughern and Lauren Redfern and seniors Stephanie Kemp and Molly McGrath. McGrath, Basalt’s point guard/ringleader, is also leading all classes in assists.
“This had been our best week of practice,” Alcorta said. “They’re athletes and they want to play and get that title. They love this game. They’re all out there with smiles on their faces.”
The Cedaredge girls, Basalt’s opponent tonight, “are exactly like us,” Alcorta said. “They press, they’re fast and they’re physical. I think it’s going to be a great game. Look the other way and you might miss something.”
As for the Aspen girls, Alcorta said no matter the outcome tonight, her team will be ready. “They’re going to be up for it just because it’s Aspen,” she said. “I won’t have to do much to prepare them for that game; they’ll do it themselves.”
Lance Finkbeiner, coach of the Aspen girls, said his team enters rivalry weekend “a little depleted.”
“Usually we run into injury and sickness at some point. Well, we’re there now,” he said.
Starting senior point guard Kelly Waldron is out (broken nose) and so is backup Cassie Margaretten (sick).
Aspen hosts Roaring Fork (9-5, 4-2) at 6:30 p.m. tonight and Basalt on Saturday at 4 p.m. Both games will be played at the AHS Skierdome.
“Basalt’s always been our big rival, and in the past few years we’ve overlooked Roaring Fork because we’ve always played them in this order,” Finkbeiner said. “But if we can beat Roaring Fork, that’ll give us some confidence to get up for Basalt.
“And we’re prepared despite our injuries,” the coach continued. “If we play like we can, we’ll be in good shape. It’s just a matter of executing our game plan.”
Friday’s game features a matchup of two of the top post players in the league: Aspen senior center Lizzie Suiter and her Roaring Fork counterpart, Tarn Udall.
The Aspen boys will also take the court this weekend without one of their starters, junior guard Josh Lackey.
During a loose-ball drill in practice this week, Lackey hit the floor for a ball and another player dove on top of him, driving his face into the hardwood. Lackey sustained a cut on his chin that required seven stitches, a broken nose and two lost teeth. He’ll be out at least a week and a half, coach Steve Ketchum said.
It’s the latest blow in a season in which Aspen has already lost three players: Moss Schermerhorn (calf), Shay Stutsman (broken arm) and Dusty Stutsman (shoulder).
Nevertheless, Aspen, 12-2 overall and 3-2 in league, needs a strong outing this weekend to bounce back into playoff form.
Aspen tips off with Roaring Fork (7-6, 5-1) at 8 p.m. tonight. On Saturday, Aspen meets Basalt (6-9, 3-4) at 5:30 p.m.
“With these two teams [Roaring Fork and Basalt], it doesn’t matter what the records are,” Ketchum said. “It’s usually down to the wire, very close and very exciting for fans.”
In order to win, Aspen will need solid performances from senior forward Jeff Brence and junior point guard Nick Farrell. The pair are averaging more than 20 and 15 points per game, respectively.
“Jeff and Nick are going to play solid, but Phil [Salazar], Brett [Mufson] and Zac [Paris] will have to play great for us to win,” Ketchum said. “And guys coming off the bench are going to have to hold their own too.”
Aspen is expecting overflow crowds both days. Additional bleachers have been squeezed into the Skierdome, which has a capacity of 450, and Ketchum plans to see fans three and four deep under each basket.
“It’s going to be crazy. We expect Roaring Fork and Basalt to bring hundreds of fans,” Ketchum said.
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Peter Arnold’s playing career ended after high school, but his time on the ice continues a few decades later. A longtime USA Hockey official and new Aspen resident, Arnold is searching for the next generation of hockey referees among the youth ranks here in the Roaring Fork Valley.