Lessons learned, Aspen girls ready to move on
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” So close. So far away.
The tears and frustration piled up like the losses for the Aspen girls basketball team during a tumultuous 2008 season. The Skiers squandered a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter against Coal Ridge and lost on a last-second bucket. They led Olathe by two with 90 seconds remaining only to have a Pirates defender strip the ball near midcourt, score the tying basket, then pull away in overtime. They led Gunnison going into the final quarter only to come up agonizingly short.
That script became commonplace during a long, dark, trying winter. After opening the season with three straight wins, confidence was high. That promise turned to dejection, however, when Aspen dropped its next 15 games. The Skiers went winless for nearly 2 1/2 months as the season shifted from favorable to forgettable.
“It was hard, disappointing,” senior guard Kylie Westerlind said during practice Thursday. “It did not represent how hard we worked. … It was hard looking at coach Haack and our teammates after games knowing we had let them down.”
“You obviously want to win games, but you learn a lot of valuable lessons when you go through a stretch like that,” head coach Jeremy Haack added. “I know these girls are going to play hard. It comes down to playing smart and making the right decision at the end of games.
“We’re excited. We know how close we are.”
After two lackluster seasons in which they won a total of seven games, coach and players are convinced that this is the season Aspen breaks out. Seven players with varsity experience return, including an all-conference guard in Westerlind.
Enthusiasm in the program is at an all-time high during Haack’s tenure. Nearly 30 girls crowded the gym Thursday ” the second day of practice ” as opposed to 18 during the coach’s first year in 2007, he said.
“We were so excited to practice [Wednesday],” junior Lindsey Anderson said. “We’ve all been here for open gyms. Finally, it’s here. It’s great.”
While players are adamant about looking forward, questions about the team’s biggest loss from a season ago inevitably arise. While she wasn’t in the gym Thursday, former standout Julia Hassall was the focus of many conversations.
During a breakout senior season in 2008, Hassall averaged nearly 15 points a game. She accounted for 52 percent of the team’s scoring in its four wins.
Such production will be difficult to replace, Haack said.
“Every one of these girls enjoyed playing with Julia. They knew she was a great player,” Haack said. “These girls know what she meant to the team. I think they’re ready to step up and take that role.”
It will take a collective effort. The team lost two of its top three scorers in Hassall and Grace Seigle. Westerlind, who averaged six points a contest last season, is the most prolific scorer among returners. The other six returners ” Anderson, Katy Evans, Georgia Lipkin, Caroline Kelly, Rebecca Delores and Morgan Kimmel ” combined for fewer than eight points.
Even with Hassall in the lineup, the Skiers were held below 30 points six different times last season. The main reason? They shot 31 percent from the field.
It’s no coincidence that Haack is preaching defense as the new season approaches.
“Honestly, I think we’ll have a different leading scorer each night, and the majority of our points will come off what the defense creates,” he said. “Our goal is to be the best rebounding team in the league. … I’m not concerned as much about positions as I am keeping five on the floor who are fresh and ready to get after it.”
“We know where we’re at. We know we need to work harder than ever,” Westerlind added. “We’re not satisfied.”
After last year’s rough stretch, Anderson said the tight-knit Skiers have seen it all and should be prepared for anything. She and Westerlind even hinted that the subtraction of Hassall could ultimately be a positive.
“As much as I don’t want to say that, yeah probably,” Anderson said. “She ran the show, but now we’ll be more united and play more as a team.”
“I think it makes us all more excited to have the chance to step up and shine,” Westerlind added.
That first chance comes in Nov. 22’s scrimmage against Meeker. Aspen will host a tournament Dec. 5 and 6 to open the regular season.
Haack can’t wait to tip off.
“I’ve got a good feeling about this season,” He said. “I love this team. I love this program. Each year I’ve been here we’ve gotten better. … I hope we continue building something special.”
“We’re ready to do a lot better,” Westerlind added. “We’re sick of losing. We’re not going to let it happen.”
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