Basalt, Aspen soccer teams begin postseason push Wednesday
The Aspen Times
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
ASPEN, Colorado – News of Alexa Aitken’s season-ending knee injury was disheartening for the Basalt girls soccer team. Head coach Makenzie Eshelman is hoping a home playoff game is just the thing to lift the Longhorns’ spirits.
Basalt, which finished 10-2-3 this season – good for second place in 3A Region 4 – garnered the 12th seed in the 32-team state-tournament field, released Sunday afternoon. The Longhorns will host Bayfield on Wednesday afternoon. Game times were not released.
Region 4 champion Coal Ridge was awarded the sixth seed (see related story). Aspen, seeded 19th after finishing third in the conference, will open on the road against No. 14 Telluride on Wednesday. The league’s fourth playoff team, No. 23 Vail Mountain School, will take on No. 10 Denver Christian.
Eshelman said the draw was favorable, but admitted her squad will have to get creative to replace Aitken, one of Basalt’s top defenders.
The senior tore her ACL and part of her MCL in a collision during Thursday’s regular-season finale against 4A Glenwood Springs. She had to be carried off the field.
“[Aitken’s injury], that’s a huge bummer for us. We’re all crushed. … She has been a huge leader for us,” Eshelman said. “Some girls will maybe have to play positions they haven’t played all year. We have no choice but to make it work.”
The Longhorns, then seeded 11th, blanked No. 22 Estes Park, 6-0, in last year’s postseason opener. They then lost a heartbreaker to No. 6 Manitou Springs on penalty kicks, after 80 minutes of regulation and two overtime periods could not decide a winner.
Basalt has not advanced past the second round since 2007’s run to the semifinals. Should they top Bayfield (8-3), which has won six of its last seven games, the Longhorns will likely take on No. 5 Peak to Peak.
“The girls are extremely excited and can’t wait … They all texted me this morning,” Eshelman said. “It’s going to be nice to have a home game, then we’ll go from there.”
While his team will open on the road, Skiers head coach John Gillies could do little to hide his excitement when informed about the draw.
“That’s great news. … I’m certainly happy to be playing another mountain town, that’s for sure,” he said. “I think [the seeding committee] at least recognized the fact that although we ended up third in our league, we showed we could compete with likes of Coal Ridge.”
Aspen relished its role as underdog last spring when, as the 24th seed making its first postseason appearance since 2006, it knocked off No. 9 Middle Park.
The Skiers fell to eighth-seeded Colorado Academy, 3-0, in the second round. If Aspen pulls off a first-round road win against the Miners (9-3), who clinched the Region 5 title with nine wins in their last 10 games, third-seeded St. Mary’s, the reigning state champion, will likely be waiting in the Round of 16.
“If we can compete with Coal Ridge, we have nothing to fear,” said Gillies, who has 11 seniors on his roster. “Bring it on. We’re ready for it.”
Off-the-field activities could complicate matters, however. Seven players are scheduled to take IB exams Wednesday, and their status for the game is not yet know, Gillies said.
Should Aspen advance, its second game will take place Saturday, the same day as prom.
“It’s one hurdle after another,” Gillies said.
He jokingly added: “If there’s any manicurist willing to give up their time to come travel with the Aspen girls soccer team … it would be greatly appreciated.”
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