Injury-riddled Aspen begins pivotal stretch |

Injury-riddled Aspen begins pivotal stretch

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Two broken collarbones. Two car accidents. A shattered wrist.

The Aspen boys basketball team is looking more like a M.A.S.H unit than an unbeaten 3A Western Slope title contender these days. While he tried to maintain his typically upbeat persona Wednesday evening, longtime head coach Steve Ketchum admitted to feeling uneasy as his depleted squad prepares for a crucial slate of games in the coming days.

“We have this much stuff going on and it’s not even midseason yet,” Ketchum said. “They’re teenagers. The coaches preach to them to stay safe and make good decisions. You pray that there’s a miracle, that God intervenes and keeps everybody safe.”

That has not been the case thus far this season. Guard Andrew Papenfus has been sidelined for the last six weeks after inadvertently landing on a teammate and snapping his collarbone while attempting to dunk during practice. Zack Babich, a transfer from Key West, Fla., has been out since Dec. 9 after breaking his wrist against Palisade.

Both players are expected back soon ” Papenfus will likely make his season debut tonight when the Skiers host Coal Ridge at 7 p.m. The same cannot be said of Nick Codd, who was recently lost for the season after breaking his collarbone in a skiing accident.

It could have been much worse. The 6-foot-5 junior was riding rails with friends over the holiday break when, on his final jump of the day, Codd tried to nail a 360. He landed only a 320, lost his balance and fell directly on his shoulder, shoving his clavicle against his carotid artery.

Had the bone moved another millimeter, the artery would have been severed and Codd could have bled to death, Ketchum said.

Codd was air-lifted to Denver where doctors were able to snap the bone back in place. He’ll be in a brace for the next few months.

“Doctors say this injury happens to .001 percent of the population, Ketchum said. “He knew he shouldn’t have been doing it … but he decided to take a chance.

“I feel bad for him. He came to practice the other day, and he was nervous about seeing me and seeing his teammates. He feels like he’s letting everybody down, that he’s blown his season and hurt the team’s chances to have success. My only thought was ‘God, I’m just glad you’re alive.'”

The same could be said for Walker Moriarty and Devin Kahn, who were both involved in minor car accidents during the break. Both walked away unscathed.

This time last season, Papenfus was injured while hucking a cliff and missed Aspen’s run to the state semifinals.

“It’s incredibly frustrating for me. … I have to constantly remind myself this is just a game, it’s not life or death. This is not the NBA or a D-I college job, and my job is not on the line if we lose one game,” Ketchum said. “I try not to [worry], but every time I called or texted somebody [during the break] to ask how open gym was going and who was showing up, I asked ‘Are there any injuries?’

“We’ve all had to learn the hard way.”

The education will continue. Ketchum has been racking his brain this week, tweaking lineups and trying to figure out how to best utilize his nine healthy players, he said. He’ll also have to try and find a replacement for Codd, a key contributor who started the season opener and scored 12 points in the team’s last game Dec. 20 in Olathe.

The misfortune comes at an inopportune time. The Skiers square off tonight with an unbeaten Titans team that coaches unanimously selected as the preseason Slope favorite. Coal Ridge guard Eric Schmitz is making an early push for player of the year honors after averaging more than 25 points per game in his first six.

On Saturday, Aspen travels to Parachute to face Grand Valley, another squad that could be a league-title contender. The Cardinals return all five starters from last year’s squad that reached the 2A state semifinals.

“It’s tough. The timing could not have been worse,” Ketchum said. “We’ll try and fill that void, but it won’t be the same and we won’t look the same.

“At least it gives us some time to get our act together and figure some things out. If this happened right before the playoffs, we wouldn’t be able to make the adjustment. … The silver lining in this cloud is that kids who played a little less and had their roles diminished will have to step up now and contribute. … We’re going to need them, so we hope they do.”

Ketchum said he is still optimistic. His team is 6-0 and ranked seventh in the Rocky Mountain News’ latest poll, released Wednesday. The Skiers also play four of their next six at home.

If Aspen can weather this latest storm, the coach said his team’s chances of vying for a second consecutive Slope title might not be implausible ” assuming the rest of the Skiers can stay healthy.

“Hey, if we can pull off this in a little bit of a depleted state, we’re better than I thought we were,” Ketchum added. “This weekend will show us some things.”

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