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Last shot for Basalt senior girls

Nate PetersonThe Aspen TimesAspen CO, Colorado
Clockwise from upper left, Basalt seniors Alia Munger, Dayne Toney, Emily Peetz, Kat Fitzpatrick and Hailey Guglielmo have been playing basketball together since middle school. The group has led Basalt to back-to-back league and district titles and a runner-up finish at state last year. (Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times)
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BASALT Three trips to state, three heartbreaking losses. For Basalt’s Dayne Toney and Alia Munger, there were tears for all seasons last year.Volleyball in the fall. Basketball in the winter. Soccer in the spring.The closer the pair got to a state championship, the more it stung when they came up short. The worst was last March, when the magic ran out for the Longhorns girls in the 3A state basketball championship at Fort Collins’ Moby Arena.After upsets over two powerhouse private schools from the state’s best conference, the 3A Metro, Basalt stumbled against the third, losing to seventh-seeded Machebeuf, 55-46. There was plenty of reason for optimism, however, once all the tears had been wiped away.

Basalt had exceeded expectations and made it to within one win of a state title no one – themselves excluded – had pegged them to win. As Munger put it, there wasn’t a doubt in the losing locker room among the five players returning for their senior seasons that Basalt basketball would be heard from again in 2008.”I think we’ve grown with each time, and I think this postseason we’re really ready for it because we’ve been there before,” said Munger, a guard for the 19-3 Longhorns who is also a standout midfielder on the soccer pitch and played defensive specialist for the varsity volleyball team the past two falls. “We definitely did a lot of things right last year, and I guess we just have to push it that extra bit. Make a couple more plays.”The Longhorns were working on just that Wednesday behind closed doors while gearing up for their state playoff opener at home at 7 p.m. Friday against eighth-seeded Peak to Peak (11-11). After fighting through injuries and fatigue toward the end of the regular season, Basalt – which held the state’s top ranking from December until Feb. 21 – looked healthy and loose.Toney danced to the booming hip hop pouring out of the loud speakers and joked between drills. Munger, after missing the last six games with an ankle injury, went through drills without pause. Senior shooting guard Kat Fitzpatrick’s sore wrist didn’t seem to be bothering her as she sank shot after shot.After locking up a second straight district crown and the coveted home-court advantage that comes with it for the regional round, senior point guard Emily Peetz said the Longhorns are right where they dreamed they’d be at the start of the season. And they’re not taking it for granted.”All of us want to get back there [to Fort Collins] for our senior year and get it this time,” she said. “We’re in a really good spot to do that right now.””I don’t want it to be over yet,” added the Longhorns’ fifth senior, forward Hailey Guglielmo. “I want to go next week. That’s what’s motivating us.”

All five seniors on the Longhorns’ roster have been playing basketball together since middle school, and Peetz said some played on youth teams before that. The group bears the markings of a winner, not only because of its collective talent, but, arguably more important, because of its unselfishness.Toney and Fitzpatrick have carried the offensive load this season, forming an inside-outside threat that has given opposing teams fits while averaging 15 and 13 points, respectively. There is the shared understanding among both stars, though, that their success is a direct result of their teammates’ willingness to get them in position to score. They also feel comfortable returning the favor when the opposition clamps down on them and leaves their teammates wide open.”Our team is just full of talent,” said Peetz, Basalt’s third leading scorer at 10.8 points per game. “We don’t rely on one person, which is just key to our team. We can have people even come off the bench and score 15 points, if need be.”The palpable chemistry among the five Longhorns seniors is the result of hours upon hours spent together in practice after school and riding buses to and from games over the years. Guglielmo, Toney, Fitzpatrick and Munger were members of the Longhorns soccer team that made it to the 3A state semifinals last spring. Fitzpatrick decided to come out for volleyball this fall, joining Toney and Munger on the court for a run that ended at districts. Fitzpatrick said the closeness between the five seniors – and the rest of the players on Basalt’s roster – is the foundation to the team’s success. When they’re playing loose and having fun, the Longhorns are at their best.



“We like to create a good mixture between having fun and playing hard,” said the senior marksman, who enters Friday’s game with an absurd shooting percentage of 62 percent from behind the 3-point line. “To practice hard, we have some fun first, then we run. It’s what’s best for us. If we get worried too much, we don’t play as well.” Toney is the quintessence of that carefree spirit. Her dance moves draw laughs from teammates in practice, as do her antics in front of the camera when a photographer is trying to set up the perfect front-page shot. To a teammate, however, no one is more focused when a game is in the balance.Toney certainly has a reason to keep things light. Because of her immense talent and size, she’s been the go-to player for years on both the basketball and volleyball courts. And if that isn’t pressure enough, she’s started in goal for the Basalt soccer team since her freshman year.”[Expectations] are hard, but you just gotta let the mental stuff go while you play and you’ve just got to play your game and not let anything else bother you,” she said. It’s an attitude that could aptly describe the Longhorns seniors as they begin what Toney hopes will be another run to the 3A championship game. Since making it there last March, the expectation among all five has been to make it back.They know it’s their last chance. So far this season, they’ve made sure to enjoy every minute of it. “It’s all or nothing this time,” Toney said. “We can’t let up one bit. This is it. We want to show what we’re made of.”npeterson@aspentimes.com.