Soccer standout has eye on the goal
ASPEN Stephen Buzbee lined up from left of the goal Wednesday on the turf at Aspen High School. As Eric Sciarrone crouched in goal, Buzbee fired a powerful shot in his friend’s direction. Sciarrone raised his gloveless hands to thwart the attempt, and immediately let out a yelp as the ball bounded off his fingertips and through the cool, damp air. Buzbee turned to friend and fellow men’s-league teammate Ryder Fyrwald, and the two shared a laugh. By all accounts, as he and his friends passed the ball around – much like they have for the past seven years – an air of calm surrounded Buzbee. Reality, however, tells a much different story.”I have a lot to think about these days,” the 2006 All-State first-team selection said candidly. “It’s nice to get out here, kick a ball, and forget about things for a while.”Tuesday, Buzbee will trade in familiarity for the unknown. To pursue his dream of playing Division I soccer, Buzbee will leave the Roaring Fork Valley – a place where he distinguished himself as one of Western Slope’s most decorated athletes – and head to Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash. There, he and a group of other former high school standouts will vie for coveted spots on the Bulldogs’ soccer team.Thirty players will participate in a 10-day tryout to determine who makes the 19-man traveling team. No player, not even upperclassmen, is guaranteed a spot.
Buzbee was always the player who wanted to take the big shot. The pressure of expectation or opposing defenses never fazed him. But Thursday, he admitted he’s feeling the anxiety.”I’m really excited, but I’m also nervous,” he said. “I really don’t know what I’m getting myself into.”Team tryouts won’t take place for a few more weeks, and school doesn’t start until Aug. 28. In the interim, Buzbee is heading to campus to participate in two weeks of unsanctioned captain’s practices. He’ll be living off-campus with his older teammates, the majority of whom he has never met, until he moves into the dorms.Buzbee will be the first of his group of friends to leave the valley – a place he has called home since he was 5, when he, his parents and twin sister, Taylor, moved here from Denver. The longest he’s ever been away since was the three weeks he spent at a ski camp in Argentina. Even then, Buzbee admitted, he felt homesick.He will be out of his comfort zone, Buzbee said. The uncertainty has left him wondering how he will fit in.His place in Aspen soccer lore is irrefutable. Buzbee’s accomplishments were so impressive that he shared Aspen’s male athlete of the year honor with nordic skiing and cross-country standout Noah Hoffman – and even garnered a mention in Matt Beirne’s valedictorian address at graduation. The two-time 3A Western Slope player of the year scored 29 goals in 2006 – the third highest total in all of 3A – and was held scoreless just once in 18 games. He scored two goals in a four-minute span during last year’s state quarterfinals, his final high school game in Aspen, helping spark a 4-0 win and Final Four berth.
Despite all the accolades and success, Buzbee’s ordinarily unshakable confidence is in flux. “Everybody there is going to be as big, strong and fast as me,” he said. “There’s no weak players on this team. Everybody is good, and you have to fight for everything.”I’m worried I won’t be as good as the other players, but I try not to think about it.”Buzbee has given himself every chance possible to make an immediate impact. In addition to playing in the men’s league, he’s stuck to a workout regimen Gonzaga coaches gave him; a typical week includes three days of lifting and sprinting and two days of distance running. In addition, he’s leaned on Billy Boyd, a former player at UCLA, for advice regarding what to expect and how to distinguish himself. “He told me when I show up to do something to impress the coaches in the first five minutes,” Buzbee said. “Run someone over or take a hard shot.” Buzbee isn’t sure just yet what he’ll do to stand out. His focus these days is spending time with family and friends. He’s been putting it off for as long as possible, but Buzbee said it’s about time he give in to his mother; she’s been begging him to go shopping for weeks.
Last week, he and others attended the MLS All-Star Game in Denver. They’re planning a barbecue for Sunday.”It’s a little sad because I’m the first one of my friends leaving, by about a month,” Buzbee said. “[This summer] has gone by so fast. I’m more nervous about being somewhere else than I am about the actual soccer part.”It seemed fitting that, with the end of summer and his future looming, Buzbee took a moment to unwind at Aspen High on Wednesday. It was the site of many triumphs, and a place that helped create opportunities. And while he may be anxious, Buzbee is ready to take full advantage of his most recent opportunity in Spokane.”I’ve been working hard,” he said. “I’m ready to get up there and make it all worthwhile.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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