Star Skier’s status uncertain for soccer semifinal
Stephen Buzbee hobbled through the halls of Aspen High School on crutches Tuesday wearing a boot on his foot. Teammates thought it was a Halloween costume.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t a trick. Buzbee collided with goalkeepers coach Ryan Johnson Monday night during practice and severely sprained his ankle.
His status for fifth-seeded Aspen’s 3A state semifinal match with No. 9 Denver Christian Thursday remained in doubt Tuesday night.
“Everything happens for a reason. Don’t ask me what the reason for this is,” Aspen head coach Junior Sutherland said. “He’s a tough guy to replace. Anyone in their right mind would want Stephen Buzbee on their team.
“This is a tough one, but we’ll get through it.”
Buzbee, standing inside the box, paused to catch his breath during the final play of practice Monday. A ball was crossed into the box and Johnson lunged out of goal. Buzbee’s foot was momentarily caught underneath Johnson.
“He rolled into me,” Buzbee said. “I knew something was wrong.”
Buzbee’s ankle had already begun to swell in the 10 seconds it took Sutherland to reach his fallen player. Teammate Nicky Anastas said Tuesday that he didn’t think anything of the collision after watching Buzbee stand and put weight on his ankle. Trainers did, however, advise Buzbee to have an X-ray Tuesday morning.
Sutherland anxiously waited for the results. He was, however, hesitant to answer a call from Buzbee’s mother.
“I was sitting and looking at the phone and saying ‘I don’t want to answer this,'” said Sutherland, whose team is making its first semifinal appearance since 2000, when they lost in the final. “It’s at those moments that you realize this is just a game, and that the kid’s health is more important.”
The news was somewhat encouraging. There were no broken bones or ligament damage. But questions about Buzbee’s availability for Thursday’s game remains a question that likely won’t be answered until 15 minutes before game time, Sutherland said.
In order to give himself the best chance to be in game shape, Buzbee won’t travel to Denver today with the team. Instead, he will stay in town and continue to receive massages and other treatments at the Aspen Club. He will join his teammates Thursday.
“I was definitely looking forward to going out to dinner and hanging out, but it’s more important that I get this fixed,” Buzbee said. “Hopefully they don’t need me to play Thursday. If they do, I’ll give it a shot.
“I don’t want to sit out what could be my last game.”
If Buzbee isn’t ready when his team takes the field at 7 p.m. at Englewood High School’s Pirate Field, Aspen will miss his production. Buzbee, who has scored a 3A Western Slope and team-leading 29 goals thus far this season, has been at his best this postseason. Despite being targeted by opposing defenses, he scored three times in two games ” Aspen outscored Colorado Springs Christian and Classical Academy, 10-3, during that span.
Offense will be at a premium for the Skiers, who face stingy Denver Christian goalkeeper Jeff Lanser. In 17 games, Lanser has allowed no more than two goals. He has surrendered just eight all season, and shut out top-ranked Peak to Peak in his team’s 1-0 upset quarterfinal victory Saturday.
While they are concerned about their teammate’s well-being, Aspen players appeared loose during Tuesday night’s practice. They’re prepared to carry the torch without their unquestioned offensive leader if need be.
They may have no choice.
“We won’t really know what his loss will be until he’s not on the field,” Anastas said. “He brings away two to three defenders and scores in every game. We want him in the game, and he’s an amazing player, but we’ve had 11 players other than him score this year. This is a little disheartening, but we think we’re the better team.”
“We’ll be fine. We have enough talent on this team to make it through,” Sutherland added.
News of Buzbee’s injury is just the latest in what has become a string of misfortunes for the Skiers. The team’s impressive shutout quarterfinal win over Classical Academy Saturday was dampened in the game’s waning minutes when senior forward Eric Sciarrone was whistled for a hard tackle and issued a red card. As a result, Sciarrone must serve a one-game suspension.
“Everything was going too well. Something had to give,” Sutherland said. “It was almost too good to be true.”
Following Aspen’s opening round home win on Oct. 24, players and coaches expected they would travel to Alexander Dawson to face the No. 4 Mustangs. No. 13 Classical Academy upset Dawson, however, and guaranteed Aspen another home game. The good news continued before Saturday’s contest, when Sutherland was notified of Peak to Peak’s early exit.
Sutherland refuses to be discouraged by recent developments and continues to maintain optimism.
“Kids bounce back, some faster than others,” Sutherland said. “We’ll give Buzbee every chance possible to play. He deserves it. If he doesn’t we’re still capable. We’ll give it our best shot. These players don’t want this to be over, that’s for sure.”
Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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