The Stars Align |

The Stars Align

Jeff Caspersen
Post Independent
Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

They are 21 of the area’s top athletes, a group comprised of well-traveled veterans, team leaders and budding superstars that dominated the High Country prep landscape this past year. They awed us with their feats of athleticism and flair for the dramatic on the soccer and football fields, the hardwood and everywhere in between. They made this past school year one to remember. Here are the Western Slope’s All-Stars.

Winning is all Ashlie Bowles knows. Whether helping Coal Ridge to the playoffs in basketball or in soccer, Bowles was always a key cog in the push.

Bowles, the recently named 3A Western Slope League girls soccer player of the year, was a big part of the Titans’ 14-9 basketball campaign in the winter. The senior then turned around and helped Coal Ridge’s soccer team to a 14-9 effort in the spring.

On both fronts, she always seemed to be in the middle of the action.

Bowles was also a state qualifier in track and field during her high school career.

Bowles will study at Colorado Mesa University (formerly Mesa State College) next school year.

Roaring Fork’s Browning twins were a double dose of trouble for their track and field foes in 2011.

Taylor and Zach tore up the Class 3A scene, each finishing in the top five in three separate events – the 100, 200 and 400 meters – at the recent state meet. Taylor took second in both the 100 and the 200. Zach was second in the 400.

Taylor, who will run track at the University of Redlands in California next school year, owns the Class 3A record time of 21.96 seconds in the 200, a mark he hit at an April meet in Rifle.

Zach will run at Division I Colorado State University next school year.

One of the most feared linebackers in Class 3A football, Nick Ciani wreaked havoc on opposing offenses in 2010.

He also helped Glenwood Springs win a lot of games.

Behind a devastating Glenwood Springs linebacking corps that featured not only Ciani but Chad Montover, Willy Pelland and Chris Ayala, the Demons advanced all the way to the state title game in the fall.

And Ciani’s contributions to Glenwood athletics extended beyond the gridiron. He was also a standout basketball player and competed in track and field.

Football is where Ciani made his biggest impact, though.

As a senior leader on the 2010 runner-up team, Ciani was a defensive force. He averaged more than 11 tackles a game as the Demons advanced all the way to the 3A title game for a second time in three years.

As a sophomore in 2008, he logged extensive playing time in the Demons’ march to a state title.

Ciani’s off to Colorado State University next school year, where he’ll play Division I football as a preferred walk-on.

Few basketball players were more exciting to watch than Cortney Cordova in 2010-11. The speedy Rifle Bear could do just about anything on the basketball court. Her quick hands led to countless steals and layups and her shot had plenty of range.

Cordova and deep supporting cast carried Rifle to a perfect regular season and 24-2 overall record. The Bears advanced to Class 3A’s round of eight in Fort Collins.

Cordova’s basketball career will continue next season at Colorado Northwestern Community College in Rangely.

Cordova also played softball and dabbled in cross country and track and field in high school.

Bridger Dawson was a role player on an Aspen basketball team that made it to the state title game in 2010. In 2011, the 6-foot-9 senior was the main attraction.

The expectations were high. He entered the season a few weeks removed from having signed a letter of intent to play at Division II Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla. He was a known commodity. And, with a young and inexperienced supporting cast around him, he had to shoulder much of the load.

Steve Ketchum was certain Dawson had the game and the calm demeanor to handle such pressure. “The kid can literally be player of the year in the state of Colorado,” Ketchum said. “He has that potential.”

The veteran head coach was right.

Dawson scored 20 or more points in three of his first four games, perplexing opponents with his rare ability to impose his will down low and regularly connect from beyond the arc. That production continued all winter, as the left-hander helped the Skiers overcome a sluggish start and win their last six

regular-season games, securing second place in the 3A Western Slope and, ultimately, another postseason berth.

Dawson was the lone Aspen player in double figures in a hard-fought, 32-28 victory over The Academy in the first round of the playoffs. In the second, he paced the squad with 21 points and six rebounds as the Skiers fell seven points short of upsetting Valley and earning a fourth consecutive trip to the Great 8.

All told, he averaged nearly 16 points – doubling his output from his junior year – and four rebounds per contest.

A state meet regular the last four years, Glenwood Springs’ Jolie Dubois is known for her speed.

The sprinter not only helped the Demons to a trio of relay titles the past two years – in the 4×100 and 4×400 meters in 2010 and the 4×400 in 2011 – she’s excelled in open events at the state level as well.

She competed in the 200 at state in each of her four years of high school and qualified twice in the 100, regularly scoring high finishes along the way.

Dubois parlayed her speed into a spot with the Division I University of Wyoming track team.

One of the most lethal shooters in the state, Kevin Flohr flashed virtually limitless shooting range during his high school career.

In helping Glenwood to a third straight 4A Western Slope League title in 2010-11, Flohr poured in 24.5 points a contest. And he was nearly perfect at the foul line, hitting 138 of 147 free throws (93.9 percent). He shot at a 99-of-270 clip (36.7 percent) from 3-point range.

Flohr, who hails from a family of hoopsters – his dad and two older brothers all played college basketball – will take his game to Colorado Christian University in Lakewood next school year.

Basketball wasn’t Flohr’s only sport in high school. He also played baseball and golf.

Landon Garvik’s high-velocity kill shots paralyzed many an opponent during her four years of high school volleyball. The 6-foot-1 Roaring Fork senior was a force up front, anchoring a program that’s reached great heights in recent years.

In 2010, Garvik and the Rams advanced to the Class 3A state tournament for the first time in 20 years. Garvik, who swatted 421 kills over the course of the season, and fellow seniors Joey Clingan, Ixchel Muniz, Savanna Phibbs and Niki Burns led Roaring Fork to a 23-5 record and a second straight 3A Western Slope League title.

Garvik, one of the most talented volleyball players the Roaring Fork Valley’s seen in recent years, will suit up for Division I George Washington University next school year.

A danger with his arm and his legs, Luke Jacob had a high school football career to remember. As Glenwood Springs High School’s starting quarterback the last two years, the athletic passer put up video game-like numbers – and won games in the process.

Helping the Demons to a 19-7 record the last two seasons, Jacob excelled in the intense spotlight that shines on those who occupy the quarterback position.

In a senior season that ended with the Demons finishing as 3A state runners-up, Jacob finished with 1,495 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground and 1,320 yards and seven scores through the air. It was his second season with more than 1,000 yards in both the passing and rushing departments.

Jacob, who also played baseball for Glenwood, will not play football in college. He’ll study at the University of Colorado-Denver.

From the time she set foot on a track as a freshman, Grand Valley’s Brandi Krieg exhibited Division I distance running potential.

After four seasons filled with state appearances and countless miles, Krieg has cashed in on that potential. She’s headed to the University of Tulsa next school year.

During her senior school year, Krieg capped a decorated prep career by qualifying for state in cross country for the third time and in track for the fourth time.

At the May state track and field meet in Lakewood, she finished third in the Class 3A 1,600 – her best individual finish at a state competition.

So much for a learning curve.

Aspen girls soccer player Keile Kropf entered the spring as a relative unknown – to everyone but John Gillies, who had been watching her since she was little and figured she “was going to be spectacular.” Even the head coach likely was blown away by the precocious freshman forward’s play in a decidedly deep 3A Western Slope.

Kropf scored four goals and assisted on two others in her first varsity game – a 9-0 home rout of Vail Christian. She never slowed, overwhelming opponents with adept ball handling and her uncanny knack for finding the net.

All told, Kropf logged 21 goals in 15 games – one of the highest totals in the conference. The rest of her teammates scored just 20 times.

She scored two or more goals in six games; the Skiers won five of those contests. Kropf also connected on Aspen’s lone goal in a 3-1, playoff-opening loss at Peak to Peak on May 11.

“We’ve had a lot of good freshmen come through, but once they get out there with players four years older, they don’t really shine,” Gillies said after an April 14 game in Rifle in which Kropf recorded a hat trick. “[Kropf is] definitely a step above the rest.”

What can we expect for an encore? Opposing coaches likely don’t want to know.

A pure athlete whose best game is basketball, Glenwood Springs’ Kenzie Kuhn stood out on the court. Whether knifing through the lane with her flashy ball-handling skills or draining 3-pointers en masse, she’s dazzled the hoops-crazy Glenwood community the last few years.

Kuhn and the Demons posted a 19-5 record in 2010-11, finishing in a tie atop the 4A Western Slope League standings.

Kuhn’s a versatile athlete who excels at multiple sports. She also played soccer for Glenwood and softball for Basalt, contributing mightily to the success of both programs.

Kuhn will play basketball at Wheaton College in Norton, Mass., next school year.

While Jamie Matherly was a key contributor on the Longhorns’ hoops and soccer teams during her four years at Basalt, she always shined brightest on the diamond.

A four-year starter and repeat All-State performer, Matherly played a pivotal role in helping a fledgling program develop into a Western Slope power. With Matherly, a slick-fielding shortstop who hit for power and average, anchoring the infield and the batting order the last three seasons, Basalt was 19-1 in league play.

This past season, Basalt’s sixth at the varsity level, Matherly helped the Longhorns win 14 of 20 games and secure a third consecutive conference title.

The senior, who led all of 3A as a sophomore with a .689 batting average, hit .491 last fall. She led the Longhorns with 38 RBI, had 10 multi-hit games, 10 doubles and scored 28 runs.

In Sept. 25’s game at Grand Valley alone, Matherly went 2-for-4 with a home run and eight RBI in a 16-6, mercy rule-shortened contest. One week later, against Cedaredge, she drove in four and swiped four bases.

Matherly, who is not expected to pursue softball when she heads to Arizona State University in the fall, compiled 16 RBI in her last six games. Talk about ending on a high note.

It was the play that defined the Aspen football team’s season. And, like he had been for much of the fall, Quinn Morehead was in the middle of the action.

With Platte Valley facing a fourth down at the Aspen

9-yard line, and his team clinging to a one-touchdown lead with 11 seconds remaining in Nov. 13’s playoff opener, Morehead broke toward the middle of the field and batted away a pass, sealing a 21-14 Skiers win.

The outgoing junior, one of the Slope’s top lockdown corners and a home run threat at wide receiver and on special teams, led the celebration afterward.

There was plenty to celebrate for Morehead last year. In addition to excelling on the football field – he hauled in 40 catches for 660 yards and eight touchdowns, logged three 100-yard receiving games and amassed four interceptions – Morehead came into his own on the basketball court. His unrivaled athleticism, range and knack for getting to the basket helped him emerge as a top scoring threat alongside Bridger Dawson. Morehead was one of two Skiers to average in double figures, and he scored 20 or more points three times – including a 29-point outburst in a win at Hotchkiss.

Morehead also was one of Slope’s top center fielders and toughest outs on the diamond this spring.

Expect him to play an even bigger role in all three sports next year.

Rarely do freshmen have the kind of instant impact that Coal Ridge’s Paige Ryan did in 2010-11.

The speedy youngster burst onto the basketball scene in the winter by leading the 14-9 Titans in points and assists.

In the spring, she scored a team-high 20 goals and tied for the team lead with 11 assists in helping the soccer Titans to a 14-3 record and a third straight 3A Western Slope League title.

Ryan also played volleyball in the fall.

During an erratic year on the hardwood for the Basalt boys, Blake Scherer was the one constant.

The lanky senior guard, who often drew praise from opposing coaches and players, never took a night off this winter. The stat-sheet filler routinely displayed a ability to both create his own shot from anywhere on the court and be a great distributor. Few defenses could keep a determined Scherer out of the lane or off the free throw line.

He kicked off the season by scoring in double digits in 10 consecutive games and was held under 10 just three times. In addition, he doled out an average of three assists and more than two steals per contest.

Scherer’s efforts were not enough to propel his squad to consecutive state tournament appearances. He made up for that disappointment, however, with some late-season heroics on the baseball diamond this spring.

The sweet-swinging lefty, who is bound for Boise State in the fall, went 5-for-8 with a home run – his first in high school – and drove in five RBI in a doubleheader sweep of Rifle on the final day of the regular season. The effort helped the Longhorns secure the Slope’s sixth and final playoff spot. The postseason trip was Basalt’s second in program history.

Scherer batted .382 and drove in 15 runs. He amassed nine

multi-hit games and provided some stability at shortstop, where he displayed great range and an accurate arm.

“Hopefully, the ball will be hit to Blake a lot,” Longhorns assistant Rick Ryan said before Basalt’s playoff opener with Bennett. “If that’s happening, we’re in good shape.”

There really wasn’t a sport Roaring Fork’s Jake Strack-Loertscher didn’t excel at in high school.

His power bat and polished defensive skills at catcher set him apart from the pack on the baseball diamond. His 6-foot-4ish frame and leadership skills also came in handy on the basketball court and on the football field.

He helped the Rams to Class 3A’s round of eight in basketball this past school year. In baseball, Strack-Loertscher and the Rams made the playoffs for a second consecutive campaign.

Strack-Loertscher’s athletic future lies in baseball. He’ll play at Northeastern Junior College in Sterling.

A season-ending knee injury robbed Nicky Ufkes of half of his senior season on the gridiron, plus the rare opportunity to rush for 2,5000 yards in consecutive seasons. It cost him the chance to suit up for both the hockey and lacrosse teams. Still, any list of the area’s top athletes that did not include the Skiers’ unquestioned team leader would lose all credibility in our eyes.

Ufkes, the pint-sized, punishing tailback and weight room workhorse, quickly blossomed into one of the state’s top players – regardless of classification. He was one of the driving forces behind Aspen’s transformation from 2A Western Slope afterthought to perennial power. He even graced the cover of Colorado Football Magazine last fall, joining the likes of Stanford recruit Brendon Austin of 5A Chaparral, and Mullen running and Syracuse commit Adonis Ameen-Moore.

While he played just six full games in the fall, Ufkes was extremely productive. Despite being the primary focus of opposing defenses, he scored eight touchdowns and rushed for nearly 1,000 yards (his 978 wound up being just 18 off team leader Daniel Ryerson’s final tally).

His efforts in 2010 helped the Skiers vault to No. 1 in the state rankings for the first time in program history and secure a fourth consecutive postseason bid.

Ufkes, who is slated to suit up for Division III Hamilton College (N.Y.) in the fall, undoubtedly will go down as one of the best ever to play for the Skiers.

An all-around athlete in every sense of the word, Coal Ridge’s Cody Walls was a busy kid this past school year.

The junior played football, basketball, baseball and track and field. And he was good at everything.

Football might be where the speedy Walls did his best work, though. As a running back and defensive back, he had a knack for big plays.

On offense, he rushed for 548 yards and four touchdowns and racked up 461 yards and eight touchdowns receiving. He also threw for a touchdown and returned a kick for a score.

Walls finished with seven interceptions and two touchdowns on defense.

Most important, Walls and the Titans enjoyed the most successful football season in the school’s brief history, going 7-4 and qualifying for the 2A playoffs for the first time.

Few athletes are tougher than Glenwood Springs’ Lexie Warkentin.

Though she had suffered a rather severe right elbow injury during volleyball season and was in need of Tommy John surgery the entire winter, Warkentin managed to gut out an entire basketball season.

And she was an effective player, wreaking havoc on the boards and on defense.

Shooting anything beyond a layup was difficult, and she shot free throws left-handed and, at times, even granny style. She still managed to contribute offensively.

Warkentin wasn’t bad on the volleyball court, either.

Her all-out, aggressive approach to athletics translates well to whatever the sport she’s playing at the time.

Brian Blair, the young coach of both Coal Ridge’s boys and girls soccer programs, is building quite the resume.

Just 28 years old, he’s already overseen three girls league titles and has won coach of the year honors from his Western Slope League coaching peers four times – twice on the boys side and twice on the girls side.

And the 2010-11 school year might have been his programs’ most successful to date. Collectively, anyway.

In the fall, Blair and the boys soccer Titans went 16-2 and advanced all the way to the state quarterfinals. It was by far the boys’ best showing in the school’s brief history.

In the spring, Coal Ridge’s girls soccer crew overcame the loss of several seniors to win a third straight league title. The Titans went on to win their playoff opener and finished with a 14-3 record.

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