Longhorns rake in postseason awards
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
BASALT ” Basalt’s Kat Fitzpatrick and head coach Chris Woods are going out winners after all.
The season ended in disappointment after a first-round playoff loss to Classical Academy, but there is some consolation: The 3A Western Slope’s coaches bestowed its two highest postseason honors upon the Longhorns. Fitzpatrick won her second consecutive player of the year award, and outgoing coach Woods was named coach of the year for a fifth straight time.
Fitzpatrick was one of five Longhorns ” Melissa Stewart, Annette Stenstadvold, Hailey Guglielmo and Alia Munger ” to make the league’s first team. Dayne Toney, Zoe Herreid and Dakota Morrison were honorable mentions.
“It’s a really good individual achievement, and it does help ease the pain [of the playoff loss] a little bit,” Fitzpatrick said Wednesday. “I am really honored and actually a bit surprised.”
She’s likely the only one who was startled by the news. After playing in the midfield last season, the senior adjusted to two new positions ” sweeper and forward ” seamlessly in 2008. Her team-high 23 goals and 11 assists spearheaded an offensive attack that produced 79 scores, helping Basalt win 13 of 16 games and clinch an 11th consecutive league crown.
Fitzpatrick narrowly edged out teammate Katie Staerkel to win the award in 2007. She was the clear-cut favorite this time around, however, Woods said.
“She started as a skinny little freshman … and she grew up into a great player,” he added. “She really tore a lot of Western Slope defenses apart.”
Even when he tried to slow her down by putting her at sweeper. Fitzpatrick’s four-goal outburst against Summit in early April included one score in which she drove the length of the field, weaving between defenders with apparent ease.
“I’ve had to come back a lot,” she told The Aspen Times after the game. “When I get that chance to come up and score, I take full advantage.”
“That was pretty much saying to me that she didn’t want to play sweeper,” Woods joked Wednesday. “She can score from anywhere on the field, no matter where she’s playing.”
Woods lauded Fitzpatrick’s ability to produce despite being the prime target of opposing defenses, as well as her drive. Fitzpatrick, who accepted a scholarship to NAIA Rocky Mountain College in Montana as a junior, never lost her intensity.
“I came into the season with the mindset that this was my last year playing soccer,” Fitzpatrick said. “Even though I have another season this fall, this is the team I wanted to play with right now, and I didn’t want to put that aside and focus on next year.”
When she did move to the front line, Fitzpatrick teamed with Melissa Stewart to create the league’s most prolific scoring tandem. Stewart, a junior and the odds-on favorite to win next year’s player of the year honors, scored 20 goals and tallied a team-high 15 assists.
“Her skill level improved a lot, and she really believed in herself a lot more,” Woods said of Stewart. “She could’ve had a lot more goals if she was a little more selfish.”
With the departure of Fitzpatrick and key contributors Guglielmo and Munger ” who combined for eight goals and 13 assists ” Stewart and freshman Annette Stenstadvold will take the offensive reins next season. Stenstadvold burst onto the scene in 2008, scoring 10 goals and dishing out seven assists.
To assess the freshman’s value to the team, look no further than Basalt’s playoff game, Woods said. Stenstadvold was sidelined with an injury, the Titans doubled both Fitzpatrick and Stewart, and the Longhorns had few answers in a 1-0 loss.
“It was disappointing having her out for the playoffs. She would’ve stepped up,” Woods said. “She’s going to be a freak of a player.”
Basalt’s defense should continue to excel in 2008, too, in large part because of returnees Herreid and Morrison. Herreid, a player Woods said he’d love to have 20 of, started as a midfielder but blossomed into her role as a defender.
“One day I had a bit of a brain spark, and I said to her, ‘Have you ever played defense?’ She said no,” Woods remembered. “After she mowed down four people in the game, I said ‘I think this is going to be good.'”
Her and fellow junior Morrison made life miserable for opposing offenses, Woods said.
“I wouldn’t want to play against her,” he said of Morrison.
Success next season will hinge on Basalt’s ability to replace four-year goalkeeper Toney, whose play often was overlooked because of the strength of those in front of her.
“I told her that if her defense wasn’t so good, she would’ve been a first-teamer,” he said. “The girls have confidence when they know she’s back there.”
Basalt will be searching for its 12th straight title without Woods, too. The coach of the year, who won Slope titles in every one of his eight years on the sideline, stepped down after his team’s loss to Classical Academy. The new recreation program specialist at the Snowmass Recreation Center said he wants to devote more time to his job, his wife Karen and his 1-year-old daughter Addison.
Fitzpatrick said she was grateful to have played for Woods the last four seasons.
“I learned more from him than ever before,” she added. “It wasn’t just about soccer. It was about being able to have fun. I really grew to love the sport because of him. We’re all going to miss him.”
Woods, who contemplated the move for some time, said he promised this year’s seniors he would coach them through graduation. And he wanted to leave the program with a strong core of players in tact ” Basalt likely will be favored to win the Slope next year.
The decision to walk away was a difficult one, but Woods said he won’t be going far.
“I’ll miss it terribly, but I know I won’t be away for long,” he added. “There’s no way I’d be able to get out cold turkey. … Next year, I’ll take my daughter to games and yell at the referees from the other side of the field.”
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