Six years later, Aspen boys basketball heads back to the state tournament
AHS plays at DSST: Byers on Friday night
Only two years ago, the Aspen High School boys basketball team finished the season with a mere four wins. Last winter it was seven wins, hardly impressive considering the program’s powerhouse status under former coach Steve Ketchum not that long ago.
Still, this year’s senior class, led by Aidan Ledingham and Jonathan Woodrow, fought on and always believed in a better day. Now, six years after Ketchum last took the Skiers to the state tournament, they are back and with a swagger not seen in many seasons.
“We did,” Ledingham said simply when asked if they believed in getting back to this point. “We had a lot of good work ethic and I thought we had a lot of good drive and we have really good coaches. It took us a little time, but I think with the coaches’ help and our own instinct of being better basketball players, the team finally got better.”
This belief has culminated with a spot in the 32-team Class 3A state tournament, their first trip to the big dance since 2014. As the No. 27 seed, Aspen (14-9) will play at No. 6 seed DSST: Byers (20-2) in the first round at 5:30 p.m. Friday. Byers, located in the heart of Denver, will host the regional competition.
The winner will face either No. 11 Alamosa (16-5) or No. 22 Lamar (13-9) at 2 p.m. Saturday in the Round of 16, a game also played on Byers’ home court. Alamosa and Lamar play Friday at 7:30 p.m. in Denver.
According to fourth-year AHS coach Alex Schrempf, Byers is hosting despite original concern about their smaller court, similar to that found in Aspen’s Skier Dome. CHSAA approved the court for regional play earlier this week.
“We have a great opportunity to create a great game of basketball tomorrow night,” Schrempf said Thursday. “I’m looking at these teams that we have a chance to play, and I can’t wait to play them. We have such a great chance to do something with this tournament opportunity and it’s a great chance for these young kids to build experience and see what it’s going to be like when we try and get back next year.”
Aspen getting to the state tournament seemed farfetched only a few weeks ago. At one point the team was 10-8 overall and amid a four-game skid. Ledingham said it was their 60-51 win at Delta on Feb. 15 that snapped their losing streak that changed their fortunes.
“That was a big game for us,” Ledingham said. “We came out to play and that was when we were on a losing streak. We just clicked and that’s when we really started playing Aspen basketball. It’s been really fun from then.”
The Skiers are 4-1 since that four-game skid, and that doesn’t include a rout of Basalt in the regular-season finale, a game that didn’t officially go on the books because of an overscheduling issue on Aspen’s part. The only loss came Saturday in the district championship game to Gunnison, 79-49. AHS only trailed by six points at halftime of that game.
“One thing I never doubted from the inception of this whole little project here is I never doubted having their trust,” Schrempf said of the current group of players. “These guys are not going to be a fluke. This isn’t the stars aligned, one good season in a small town; this is a product of a group of kids who keep trying to work to grow their love of the game together. It’s super exciting for us coaches to see.”
Ledingham said it was business as usual this week, although he also mentioned it’s “really cool to have that new chapter” of AHS basketball with a return to the state tournament. While he and his fellow seniors helped lay the foundation for the program’s return to winning, unfinished business at that, coaches and players alike see the potential for this program going forward with three underclassmen — Lucas Lee, Braden Korpela and Taylor Akin — often starting for the Skiers.
“It allows us the chance to recognize this senior group for how they’ve created this and acknowledge the underclassmen for the future they have at their grasp,” Schrempf said. “These guys stuck with it and they always trusted this process we’ve been trying to get them through. For how exciting our future can be with these underclassmen who are working so hard and love this game so much and have such a high ceiling, it’s so exciting to be a part of that.”
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With the game slipping away in the second half, Kylie Kenny and Mia Seltzer were the catalysts in Aspen’s 12-11 stunner on Monday over visiting Roaring Fork on the AHS turf, a win that keeps the Skiers undefeated on the young season.