Soccer: Aspen girls shock rival Longhorns
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN – Minutes after the final whistle sounded Thursday afternoon, Skiers girls soccer players gathered in a far corner of the pitch for a team photo.
“Make sure you get the scoreboard in the shot,” someone shouted to the assistant coach holding the camera.
This was a moment worth documenting. Wins like this do not come along very often.
The entire roster was in elementary or middle school the last time Aspen knocked off perennial 3A Western Slope power Basalt. A senior-laden Skiers squad was hoping to reverse recent history in this valley rivalry, which has been decidedly one-sided for the last decade.
It took a major step in that direction on a warm afternoon at Aspen High. The Skiers shook off a slow start with four unanswered goals – two from Annie Graber – to down the Longhorns, 4-1, notching what is believed to be their first victory over Basalt since April 2006.
“These players have been together for a long time. They deserved this,” Aspen head coach John Gillies said. “They showed they’ve got a lot of heart today.”
Added Graber: “I don’t have words. I’m so excited.”
In the years since 2006’s 3-1 win, one that snapped a seven-year losing streak against the Longhorns, the Skiers have been anything but pushovers. They lost two close games to Basalt last spring and fell in overtime and battled to a 2-2 draw during the 2010 season.
Aspen (3-0) made one very loud statement Thursday, one sparked on a corner kick about five minutes before halftime.
With the score knotted at one, Tati Armstrong positioned the ball, then lofted a shot into a crowded box. Graber, situated on the near post, pounced.
“[Gillies] always has me standing in the back waiting for it – he knows I like to head it,” Graber said. “I dove down and I felt the ball hit my head, but I thought it went straight up. Then, everyone jumped on me and said, ‘It went in! It went in!’ I was like, ‘Really?’ I had no idea.”
The Longhorns (1-1), who controlled possession for the game’s first 10 to 15 minutes and jumped out to an early lead on a 10th-minute goal from senior Katie King, appeared to be surprised, too.
“There was no intensity, no desire [after that goal],” Basalt head coach Makenzie Eshelman said. “It was ugly. We stooped down to their level of play. When a team plays kick-and-run, you have to play possession to get it back. All we did was kick it right back to them.”
The home team took advantage. It produced the equalizer in the 30th minute, when a loose ball rolled out to Annabelle Wilcox, who floated a high shot over the Longhorns’ goalkeeper and into the back of the net.
Graber kept that momentum going, then the Skiers put this one away with dominant play in the final 40 minutes.
Wilcox was in the middle of the action again in the 68th minute, chasing down a loose ball deep in Basalt’s end that appeared to be heading out of play. The junior then alertly passed to a streaking Graber, who turned and fired a shot from a difficult angle that bounded into the goal.
While it all but shut down the Longhorns’ offensive attack, Aspen continued to control the ball and apply pressure. That effort resulted in another score in the final two minutes. Junior Yosaline Ayala, who produced both goals in Tuesday’s double-overtime win over Roaring Fork, connected from close range, causing the home sideline to erupt.
“We did the same thing against Roaring Fork – I think they only had two shots. We’ve been keeping them out, and I know we can score goals,” Gillies said. “We clicked today.”
“That was the best we’ve played so far,” Graber added. “I’m so proud of this team. This should boost our confidence. I think we’re pretty ready for Coal Ridge [at home at 4 p.m. Monday].”
Eshelman expects a different Longhorns team will take the field at 4 p.m. Tuesday, when they host the Rams.
“I’ve never lost to Aspen. I don’t like losing, and neither do they,” she said. “I just told them that it’s better to have this conversation about heart and intensity level now than halfway through the season. … They always say that you learn a lot more from a loss. I think they’re angry and they’re going to bounce back. I’m scared of what they’re going to look like – in a good way.”
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Had Hailey Swirbul decided against going to Europe, she would not have finished with a career-best result in Friday’s World Cup opener. Yes, there was a time, and not long ago, when the U.S. ski team member and Roaring Fork Valley native questioned her desire to put on a race bib.