Aspen boys lacrosse team wins state championship
The Aspen Times
DENVER — Let the celebration begin; the Aspen Skiers are state champions.
The Aspen High School boys lacrosse team made childhood dreams come true Friday night, defeating Valor Christian 17-12 in the Class 4A state championship game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
Playing in front of a large crowd of Aspen supporters who made the trip to Denver, the Skiers stunned previously undefeated Valor Christian with nine goals in the first half and a 9-2 halftime lead.
The Eagles from Highlands Ranch rallied in the second half, twice closing the gap to two goals.
But Aspen’s prolific offense rebooted in the fourth quarter with six goals and the first lacrosse state championship in Aspen High School history.
“We’ve worked for this for so long. It’s unbelievable,” Aspen senior John Heaphey said amid the joyous postgame celebration in the middle of the Broncos’ stadium.
Heaphey led all goal-scorers with five in the state championship game, including three in the Skiers’ red-hot first half.
“I cannot tell you how good this feels,” said Aspen High School senior Harry Ferguson, who scored two goals and added two assists. “This was 10 years in the making. I’m on the moon right now. I’ve never been happier.”
Ditto Tyler Tick.
“We worked so hard in the offseason and during the regular season just to get here,” said Tick, Aspen’s leading scorer on the season. He had four goals against Valor Christian. “To lose this (state championship game) was not an option.”
Tick scored Aspen’s first goal of the game just 45 seconds after the opening whistle.
Aspen senior Trey Robinson followed with the first of his two goals.
Then Heaphey scored his first goal, and Ferguson potted Aspen’s fourth goal after a steal and an assist by Jonathan Wells.
Senior Matt Gregory added the first of his two goals, and Aspen led 5-1 at the end of the first quarter.
Ryan Russell scored for Valor, assisted by Brett Haskins, in the opening quarter.
Heaphey, Tick and Wells scored again in the second period.
Russell’s goal with 41 seconds to play in the half pulled Valor Christian to within 9-2.
“We knew at halftime that they would come out stronger,” Wells said of the charge by Valor Christian in the third quarter.
Goals from Don Provost, Grayson Goodyear, Aidan Donaldson, Russell (again) and Goodyear (again) cut Aspen’s nervous lead to 9-7.
“All year, our success has been there because we stay calm,” Ferguson said.
The Skiers promptly scored on back-to-back goals by Heaphey as the third quarter ended with Aspen up, 11-7.
Valor Christian rallied again in the fourth quarter, pulling to within 12-10 with nine minutes to play.
Again, the Skiers’ relieved the building pressure with Gregory’s second goal, a reverse-360 spin and goal from Wells and a spinning score from Tick (assisted by Ferguson).
The Skiers’ final goal came from Henry Godfrey with 11 seconds remaining — a fitting tribute to injured senior Ryan Fitzgerald, who suffered a broken collarbone in Aspen’s quarterfinal playoff game.
“Henry Godfrey stepped up for Ryan Fitzgerald,” Aspen head coach Mike Goerne said. “He did exactly what he needed to do. He finished the last goal of the game. … A high note to wrap it up.”
And Fitzgerald, Goerne said, provided inspiration from the sidelines.
“Ryan kept the team’s momentum up from the sidelines,” Goerne said after the Skiers finished their state championship season with a school-best 17-2 record.
Valor Christian ended the season 18-1.
“These boys have worked for this for a long time,” Goerne said, adding that the current Aspen seniors were among the first Aspen youngsters to take up lacrosse 10 years ago.
“These boys have been fighting for this the last 10 years,” he said, calling the Aspen attackers “surgeons with their sticks” against Valor Christian.
He said the Skiers enjoyed tremendous community support all season, including Friday at Mile High.
“The community of Aspen has embraced us. The support thes boys have had all year is incredible,” Goerne said.
All year, he said, the team has focused on helping each other.
Goalie Arthur Kelso led a shut-down Aspen defense that held Valor to only two goals in the opening half.
“Art is amazing. He’s been such a wall all season,” Heaphey said.
“Art, once again, stood on his head. He came up clutch at the most important time,” Wells said.
For Goerne, the state championship completed the Skiers’ mission for 2015.
“They did it for each other today,” Goerne said.
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ESPN’s Winter X Games is back in Aspen this week for the 20th straight year, although it’ll lack most of the usual flair. Out of precaution to safeguard against further spread of COVID-19, there won’t be any fans, any music and, well, really anything outside of the main competitions.