Soccer: Aspen, Basalt kick off postseason
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN – Thursday’s dramatic, double-
overtime victory at Vail Mountain School was a major coup for the Aspen girls soccer program – and a major strain on coach John Gillies’ nerves.
“It sounds like fun, but trust me, it was not,” he joked Tuesday.
“It was a fantastic game, though. It was a very emotional time for our players, parents. They deserve it.”
The Skiers likely deserved more when it came to postseason seeding, however. Aspen, fresh off clinching its first Region 3 crown in 14 years, secured the 11th seed in the state tournament. It will host No. 22 Denver Christian at 5 p.m. in Wednesday’s opening round.
Holy Family nabbed the top seed in the 32-team field. Basalt, which finished fourth in Region 3, is seeded 25th and will visit No. 8 Colorado Academy at 4 p.m.
“I thought we would’ve been (No.) 7 or 8 if I’m being honest,” Gillies admitted. “But 11 is fine with us. It gives us the bottom half of the draw – we won’t have to play the top (two seeds) unless we get to the (semifinals). It gives us the opportunity to kind of enter the tournament in disguise.”
The Skiers were anything but under the radar during the regular season. They established themselves as a conference title contender from the outset, producing seven wins and one draw in their first eight matches.
Despite prolonged interruptions for spring break and Ex-Ed, Aspen maintained its momentum, dropping just one game all season while competing in a conference where parity reigned.
“The Western Slope this year was really a tight, strong division,” said Gillies, whose Skiers boast an 11-1-3 record and have scored 41 goals while surrendering just 13. “I don’t think the Denver people have given us credit. … We only beat (VMS) with 30 seconds left in double overtime, and they came in fifth. I think at the end of the state tournament the Western Slope might get a bit more recognition.”
The Skiers, making their fourth consecutive playoff appearance, face a difficult road. A trip to Colorado Springs to take on reigning state champion Classical Academy, the sixth seed, could be in the offing Saturday. And No. 3 Peak to Peak likely would be the opponent should Aspen advance to May 17’s quarterfinals.
First, it will have to contend with a battle-tested Denver Christian side that is riding a four-game win streak and surely will not be intimidated. While they finished fourth in Region 7 and are 6-6-3, the Crusaders have navigated one of the state’s toughest regular-season slates. They have played six of the state tournament’s top 10 seeds and a total of eight postseason-bound teams.
By comparison, the Skiers have faced just three: Basalt, No. 13 Coal Ridge and No. 18 Roaring Fork. They were 3-0-3 in those matches.
“I think they’ll come out strong, but I think we’ll wear them down by the second half,” Gillies said. “I think they need to be worried about us. … They have to jump on a bus, drive up here and play at this altitude. It’s going to be quite tough for them.
“On paper it looks like we’ll do well, but it always depends on which team comes out and plays the best. I’m sure there will be nerves tomorrow – I’m nervous every day.”
Aspen will be looking to win its playoff opener for the first time since 2010. The Skiers, seeded 28th, lost to fifth seed and state runner-up Peak to Peak, 3-1, in May 2011.
“We only lost one senior, so the majority have been here before,” Gillies said. “They should be a lot more comfortable tomorrow.”
Basalt (7-6-2) is anything but comfortable. No fewer than five starters are battling injuries for the Longhorns, who were outscored 8-0 in their final two regular-
season games against Glenwood Springs and Coal Ridge.
Basalt will square off with a high-powered Colorado Academy team that is
9-4-2 and is outscoring opponents, 50-16. The Mustangs are 2-2-1 in their last five, but their stellar regular season featured a win over top-seeded Holy Family and a tie against No. 2 Faith Christian.
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Winter sports practices were officially allowed to begin last week, Jan. 18, after the Colorado High School Activities Association was given a variance from the state’s health officials. Games were allowed to be played starting this week.