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Papenfus, two Aspen hoops teammates honored

Jim Ryan Special to The Aspen TimesAspen's Andrew Papenfus drives on Faith Christian's Deron Rindels during March's state title game in Fort Collins.
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ASPEN – It did not matter that he missed six of seven shot attempts during the first half. When Aspen needed a big, late bucket with March 12’s state semifinal against Buena Vista hanging in the balance, it turned to Andrew Papenfus.

Much like he did throughout his senior season, the versatile guard came up big. He buried a 3 in the corner, then connected from the same spot one minute later to stretch the Skiers’ lead to 37-31.

“A great player hitting two great shots,” Aspen head coach Steve Ketchum said after the game, a 50-44 win at Moby Arena in Fort Collins. “I’m starting to think he might be the best player in Colorado.”

MaxPreps agreed, and recently named Papenfus its 3A state player of the year. While The Denver Post gave the honor to Buena Vista guard Josh Morgan, the paper did rewarded Papenfus with a spot on its first-team All-State squad.

The 3A Western Slope coaches’ unanimous choice for player of the year was one of three Aspen players to garner postseason state recognition – a first for the program, Ketchum said Friday. Senior guard Matthew Holmes and junior center Bridger Dawson were honorable mention All-State selections.

“I’m so excited for these kids, so happy for them,” Ketchum said. “We have nothing but great memories from this year. I could not be prouder.”

Papenfus, who battled through a left knee injury for the latter part of the season, averaged nearly 15 points per game while helping guide the Skiers to a school-record 26-1 record, a third consecutive trip to the Great Eight in Fort Collins and the program’s first state title game berth.

He shined in the postseason, scoring 15 points in the sub-region final against Yuma before erupting for 23 to propel Aspen past Manitou Springs in the state quarterfinals.

He also got the better of Morgan in their head-to-head matchup in the semifinals. The Demons senior finished with 10 points and missed 15 of 19 shot attempts, including seven of eight from behind the arc.

The duo will likely square off again at the Colorado All-State Games, June 12-13 at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley.

“I watched Josh play three times and saw Andrew play all year. To me, offensively, they’re both equally talented. Andrew probably has a slight advantage rising up and throwing it down, where Josh doesn’t have great elevation,” Ketchum said. “Both can shoot the 3 and handle it well. They’re both good passers. … On the defensive end, it’s not even close. Andrew is far superior. He works harder and is much smarter.

“I know that Andrew was hands-down the player of the year. Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. We had the player of the year two years ago. I’m sure they wanted to spread the wealth a little and reward a different school.”

Ketchum went so far as to favorably compare Papenfus’ contributions with those of Cory Parker, 2008’s 3A Mr. Basketball who became the first player in program history to make the leap from high school to Division I. He is currently finishing up his sophomore season at Drake University in Iowa.

“If you analyze them purely on ability, Andrew is faster, quicker and jumps higher. He’s more athletic than Cory, but doesn’t have a higher skill level than Cory,” the coach said. “They’re both great in their own right. In my estimation, they’re certainly two of the top three players ever to play here.”

Holmes likely will be remembered as one of the program’s best. The four-year starter, team leader and 2010 first-team All-Conference selection won the Slope’s player of the year and was a first-team All-State performer last season.

He and Papenfus are expected to continue playing at the next level – likely at Division II or III.

“He really did do it all for us,” Ketchum said of Holmes. “His effort was great, his leadership fantastic. He is such a great person, a great kid and a great student. He and Andrew are the same. … The level they reached, they earned what they got. They really paid the price.

“To have them playing together for that last two or three years has been a dream for me, and has made this program look awful good.”

Where the Skiers go from here will likely depend on the contributions of 6-foot-8 Dawson. The junior went from junior-varsity role player a season ago to a key varsity contributor who showed flashes of star potential, Ketchum said.

“He’ll be a stud for us inside, but the question for us will be what our guard play looks like,” added the coach, who will lose nine seniors. “The door is wide open. It hasn’t been wide open like this for quite a while.”

jmaletz@aspentimes.com


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