Skiers boys: League title or bust
No excuses. No second chances.For the 10 seniors on Aspen High’s boys soccer team, the 2006 season represents the last shot at an elusive 3A Western Slope title and a run at a state championship.”We’ve all been playing together since we were in fifth grade,” senior captain Ryder Fyrwald said Tuesday. “We all want to end it on a good note this year. … Everyone knows. Even the young guys. They all know we have a chance. They definitely know this is the year to put it down.”Aspen’s talented senior class doesn’t just want to win for itself. It also wants a league title for head coach Grant Sutherland, who has coached the group for the past seven years, first in club soccer, then high school. The soft-spoken Scotland native plans to step down at the end of the season – but not before one last run with his boys. The sting of a 3-2 double-overtime playoff loss last year to Colorado Academy lasted for weeks, Sutherland said. But there was a silver lining: He knew that nine of his starters from his 10-6 team would be returning, including striker Stephen Buzbee, the league co-MVP, and all-league selections Fyrwald, Nicky Anastas, Matt Cooper and Eric Sciarrone.
“They know that last year was an exceptional season, and it was just unfortunate in the playoffs the way things fell for us,” Sutherland said. “But we’ve bounced back and they basically know that it’s this year or nothing. It’s one chance.”To go with its nine returning starters, Aspen also got a little lucky in the off-season. Talented junior forward Tyler Moore returns to the mix after taking a year off to play hockey on the Front Range.Sutherland and Fyrwald both expect Moore, with his exceptional size and speed, to take pressure off Buzbee, who will be a marked man after his 19 goals and 8 assists last season.Even with the extra pressure, Sutherland still expects Buzbee to dominate. He wants him to be more composed in front of the goal, instead of forcing scoring chances. And, with the depth the Skiers have with midfielders Fyrwald, Anastas and talented forwards Sciarrone and sophomore Baker Boyd, there will be mismatches if teams choose to double Buzbee.
Sciarrone had 11 goals last season, and Boyd – who nearly transferred to a school in California in the off-season – established himself as one of the league’s rising stars.”Everyone knows [Steven’s] name and knows that he can score goals,” Sutherland said. “He will be someone that will be marked tightly. But the beauty of this team is that there are other guys who can score.”On paper, Aspen is the team to beat in the 3A Slope. Perennial league champion Basalt will have to rebuild after losing 11 seniors to graduation and its head coach, Erik Streff.Sutherland said his team isn’t looking past anyone, however. Until the Skiers finally beat their downvalley rival, Basalt is still the league favorite, he said. The Skiers lost both games to the Longhorns last season by a combined score of 6-1 to finish second in the league with a 7-3 mark.Fyrwald finally believes that he and his teammates have closed the gap.
“This definitely is the year to [beat them],” he said. “They’re good still, but it’s definitely our year. … The league title, I think that’s a reasonable goal. I think we can definitely do that. The final four is definitely the goal we want to achieve and then anything can happen from there.”Senior goalie Andy Connaroe, who split time last year, is the third captain for the Skiers with Anastas and Fyrwald. Sutherland said he wanted a strong leader on the back end of the field to go with his two vocal leaders up front.Buzbee wasn’t named a captain because Sutherland said he wanted his senior star to just focus on scoring goals, and not have to worry about too much else.”I’d rather he focus on his playing than focus on the rest of the team,” Sutherland said. “He leads with his play. He’s one of those players, when you talk to him on the sideline, and then when you throw him in the pack, he’s actually two different people. [On the field], the monster comes out inside him. He’s an incredible kid who never gives up, no matter what the score is. We could be winning by four or five and he still gives 110 percent. We could be losing 5-0 and it’s the same thing.”Aspen opens the season Sept. 1 against Eagle Valley at a three-team tournament in Montrose. Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is email@example.com
Let’s make some skiing predictions. I made my X Games snowboarding predictions a day earlier and remain only mildly lukewarm in terms of confidence, but maybe I’ll feel better about the skiers.