Surprising Aspen boys face big test Friday |

Surprising Aspen boys face big test Friday

ASPEN ” Most high school basketball coaches would be elated to be No. 8 in the latest Rocky Mountain News 3A rankings.

Aspen’s Steve Ketchum was hoping his team’s 4-0 start wouldn’t draw attention. No such luck.

Despite losing 3A’s top player from last season in Cory Parker and three other starters, the young Skiers have been one of the state’s biggest surprises in the early part of the new season.

Aspen opened with two close wins at its home tournament, and has followed those with two 29-point blowout wins on the road. The most recent came Friday night at Hotchkiss in the 3A Western Slope opener for both schools.

The defending league champion Skiers began their title defense by taking the home Bulldogs to the woodshed to the tune of 76-47.

Ketchum, for one, isn’t sold on the idea that Aspen deserves its top 10 ranking yet.

“I don’t know why, but the Rocky Mountain New has decided to rank us No. 8 in the state,” he joked. “Maybe they just feel sorry for the Western Slope.”

If Aspen beats Gunnison on its home floor Friday night, however, No. 8 in the state may be justified, the coach said.

Despite playing two 4A schools (Palisade and Eagle Valley), there’s no sidestepping this fact: Aspen’s four wins have come against teams which are a combined 1-16. The Cowboys (1-2), meanwhile, are coming off two tough four-point losses to two 3A teams with winning records.

When the Skiers tip off at 7 p.m. Friday night, Ketchum said it will be obvious very quickly whether his rebuilt team is ready to compete for another league title. He admitted he is optimistic.

“If we’re fortunate to be 6-0 after the Christmas break that would be a heck of a Christmas gift,” he said. “I think the kids are playing really well together for this early in the year. Sometimes it takes you a little time to start clicking. For some reason, this group seemed to click early on. You throw in that fact, combined with our schedule, which hasn’t been as tough as in years past, and it’s a good combination. You get off to a strong start, you’re feeling good and get on a roll, and then you start to feel like you can do anything.”

The Skiers may have the benefit of facing a Gunnison team missing one of its best players. Senior Connor Coleman, a 6-foot-5 post, is recovering from a shoulder injury suffered during the football season. Ketchum said it’s likely the senior won’t return to action until after the holiday break.

Even without Coleman, the Cowboys will be the Skiers toughest opponent yet. Ketchum is sure of it.

“Gunnison is good. We already know that,” the coach said. “They’re one of the top teams in our league. … They’ve got nearly everybody back and they’ve got a really solid group of young, ball-handling shooting guards. They’ll be a great test for us.”

Aspen’s girls team hosts Gunnison in the earlier game Friday, scheduled start at approximately 5:30 p.m. The Skiers girls fell at Hotchkiss on Friday night, 58-30, to drop to 2-2 overall.

The Longhorns boys basketball team matched points with rival Roaring Fork during each quarter but the last one on Saturday, falling at home, 48-40.

The night before, Basalt (1-3) picked up its first win of the season with a resounding 57-44 win over Olathe.

The win was Roaring Fork’s first of the season. Both Basalt and Roaring Fork are tied in the 3A Western Slope standings with league records of 1-1.

Roaring Fork’s Ryan Weimer scored a game-high 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the win.

Next up for the Longhorns is a non-league tussle at 4A Montrose at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

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