It’s been a solid start to fall for Basalt softball which is now 8 and 0, ranked number 5 statewide in Class 3A as of Sept. 9. That rating’s likely to rise further, after the Longhorns belted Eagle Valley on both ends of a Tuesday double-header, 13-7 and 14-9.
This is heady territory for a squad whose previous high-water marks came when the current senior class was in middle and late elementary school.
In 2012 and 2013, the ’Horns went unbeaten, 8 and 0 in their league, 17 and 6 overall in 2013, 15 and 8 in 2012, ending their seasons in the state tournament quarterfinals. Counting those two winning seasons, five of Basalt’s last seven campaigns have been above .500, with records on the negative side of the ledger only in 2015 when they didn’t make the regionals, and last year when the Longhorns went 9 and 10, losing 13-6 to La Junta in the regional playoff opener.
Fast forward to today, where after that setback in his first year, 2018, Coach David Miller has Longhorn ladies out there who, going into Tuesday, had won their last three games by a combined score of 43 to 11, and whose only relatively close contest has been a 5-2 win over The Academy of Westminster.
This team is different, a group of Basalt student-athletes truly putting it all together, for as Colorado softball gets into the meat of its season, could become a special year in the annals of Longhorns on the fall diamond.
Miller’s club literally brings the Valley together, since there’s no softball at either Glenwood Springs High or Roaring Fork. Much as Roaring Fork has Basalt athletes on its girls’ lacrosse team, Basalt has a few from each of those schools, and at least partially as a result, Longhorn softball’s results so far are formidable.
Miller tells the Journal: “They’re a great bunch of girls. They’ve jelled well, they’re working hard, they’re playing hard. I’m very proud of them.”
Injuries felled many of his players last season, helping lead to that 9 and 10 mark. Other than a minor injury to a 1st baseman last week, he says the Longhorns have been able to stay healthy so far this year. Miller and the team are also able to worry less about injuries, since they’re deeper at nearly every position in 2019, with a capable backup able to step in almost anywhere.
“Capable” may be an understatement for almost all the Longhorn lineup this time around. Basalt’s clearly loaded with talent, and bringing it to bear against every opponent.
Last season, current senior catcher and shortstop Zoe Vozick led the ’Horns with a .510 batting average for the year. This campaign, she showed the Cedaredge Bruins the door by batting 1,000 in the season opening 12-1 win, her four at-bats yielding four base hits, four runs scored by Vozick herself, and four RBI’s.
Miller says, “She’s special. She’s one of those gifted players, who can play pretty much anyplace, infield or outfield, though we’ve primarily used her at catcher. Zoe’s a consistent hitter and a power hitter as well. She’s a threat whenever she comes to the plate. Our goal is to get people on base and just let Zoe pound ‘em in. So far, that’s worked well for us.”
Miller’s essentially working with an embarrassment of riches in 2019. With a performance like that, Vozick’s “only” his number three hitter.
“One of our great assets is we hit the ball up and down the lineup. It doesn’t really matter who,” he said.
Another big cog in Basalt’s success machine this fall is Roaring Fork junior Maya Lindgren, who’s mostly pitching but also playing some infield and outfield for the ’Horns.
“Again, she can play literally anywhere,” according to Miller. “She’s our number one pitcher at this point, and our number four hitter, right behind Zoe. When Zoe gets on, our goal is to have Maya bat her in.”
As on any good softball/baseball squad, the pitching staff is key. Miller’s bullpen is far from lacking in 2019. “We have Maya, and Glenwood sophomore Bella Meraz.” Of Meraz, the coach notes, “she’s pretty unflappable. You can put her in anytime, and she just throws strikes.” Miller also has Basalt junior Grace Schrock pitching and playing a bit at first base, plus freshman Kiera Larson who plays third when she’s not in the circle.
Miller adds that those who aren’t pitching are a strong core for Basalt at every position, each of whom he says is capable of making the big play, and swinging a big bat. That group includes freshman utility player Corey Bullock, who’s been in right and left field, as well as on first and second base.
Senior Gaby Magana Silva is mostly an infielder, and senior McKinley Braun, back in the valley after a year of study abroad, is the leadoff hitter, who’s played shortstop, first and in the outfield. Glenwood junior Graci Dietrich is the team speedster in center field, who bats second in the order.
Miller notes he hasn’t led the Longhorns to their current status on his own. His assistant coaches include Marge Schrock, who’s been part of Basalt sports for several years. Former college pitcher Beth Jackson has been mentoring those hurlers, hoping to boost their strike counts, and the newest assistant is Amy Bullock, who also played in Division I at college and is working with infielders and outfielders. He adds the staff has been able to help him best utilize player skills, so while some may not be playing their favorite positions, where they are is benefiting the overall squad as much as possible.
Along with team unity, Miller says he’s emphasizing the slogan “Fight To The Finish” in 2019. He says in past years, Basalt teams had sometimes seemed to take their foot off the gas early if in the lead, or given up on a contest if falling behind, leaving themselves no opportunity to come back.
He believes the saying is working, noting the ’Horns got down four runs in the 1st inning to Montezuma-Cortez last weekend, but battled back to tie, then leaving the Panthers in the dust, winning the first half of the doubleheader 16-6. In the second game, Basalt got up 6-4 by the top of the 7th inning, but didn’t allow an opening, scoring five more in the bottom half to cement an 11-4 final.
Miller pledges his club will remain hungry the rest of the way through a difficult schedule. Saturday’s matchup with Conifer will be the continuation of a game started in Denver a couple weeks ago when the lights went off, with Basalt leading 3-1 in the 3rd inning.
On Tuesday, Sept. 17, the ’Horns visit the Cowgirls of Meeker for a pair of games, then on Saturday, Basalt’s at home facing two opponents, Faith Christian of Denver and Cedaredge. The home stand continues through Sept. 28, with Aspen and Rifle both having to visit Basalt, where in-person fan support can only help the cause.
Delta, Gunnison, and Palisade remain on the schedule that continues into early October.
David Miller credits his players for the effort that’s brought them from about the 15th-best 3A team before the season began, to a position among the state’s elite. He believes their work ethic and grit can keep them up there.
Optimism for volleyball
Basalt volleyball isn’t off to quite as rosy a start, standing at 1 and 4 after a Tuesday night loss in three straight games to Moffat County, 12-25, 23-25 and 25-27. The Longhorns managed to knock off a “non-varsity opponent” on Aug. 31, following defeats at the hands of big-school Golden High, Colorado Springs Palmer, and Denver North in tournament play.
The optimism is there, though. Third-year coach David Chadbourne sees a lot to like in his 2019 club, after only six match wins last year. He takes that early-season Denver tournament as a bit of a barometer, and tells the RFWJ that despite the losses, he saw a marked upgrade in confidence going in, as opposed to prior years.
“They walked in there playing a much higher level of volleyball,” he says. “The other teams even took notice when we walked in and started warming up. They did open some eyes down there, and I think this young team will continue to do so this year. They’re going to be a fun team to watch.”
Despite 2-0 losses in each of those early matchups, Chadbourne says he was encouraged by the Longhorns’ play.
“All three were good programs, so we were happy to be able to compete at that level,” he says. “One of our goals this year has been to play quicker volleyball, to play smarter, and to have a higher IQ when it comes to the game. I think the girls are accomplishing that. We’ve got some great, great players this year.”
Who are these 2019 Longhorn spikers? Chadbourne says, “Karina Bauer is probably one of our best players, all around. She’s just a solid athlete. She’s been putting some balls away for us, and will continue to do so.” Bauer is also the club leader in kills, according to the coach. “She’s our big hitter.”
Bauer is far from the only one, though. “We have a couple of powerhouses,” says Chadbourne. “Gabby Narby is a big powerhouse for us. Lecsi Glenn is also a big, powerful outside hitter.”
Belting the opponent with those decisive blows is key, but so is preventing them from doing to you what they want.
“Our defensive game is really coming along,” says Chadbourne. “Sam Andrade is our ‘libero.’ It’s hard to get anything past her on the back line. I always joke that she’s a small girl in terms of her stature, but she plays as though she’s 6’5,” which is just incredible.”
The libero is a specialized position. As with the goalie in soccer, the libero wears a different colored jersey from the rest of her team. In volleyball, she substitutes freely for the middle players in the back row. That makes defense Andrade’s whole focus.
According to Chadbourne, “She takes most of the balls on the back line. She’s able to run a lot of them down, and she’s a very smart player.”
Back to that offense up front by the net, where you have to have a good setter: “We have one of, if not the, best in the league,” according to Chadbourne.
He continued, “At that tournament, the Golden coach pulled me aside and said, ‘Your setter has great hands.’ That’s the ultimate compliment, and Lexi Lowe is a powerful athlete. Her mental game is really coming on now. Sometimes she’s her own toughest critic, but she’s really made a lot of strides.”
Of the sophomore who’s akin to a football quarterback, the coach adds, “she’s a really good volleyball player, putting up some good balls for us.” Lowe jumped right into varsity action as a freshman in 2018, with Chadbourne saying, “it was a huge responsibility, a tough role. I hate to put anybody in that situation, but she handled it with grace. This year she’s coming in stronger, a lot more confident. We look for some really good things out of Lexi. And we’ve got her for a couple more years, which is incredible for the future of the program.”
The power factor often comes from height, as in basketball.
“It does, somewhat. What we work on in the off-season is we do a lot of jump training,” says Chadbourne. “If you’re not going to be tall, you’re definitely going to have to have some hops. And our girls do — we have some who can really get off the ground and put the ball away. One, for example, is sophomore Alex Goluba. She’s definitely a powerhouse, getting stronger all the time, and one to watch for the future. She’s continuing to grow, has great athletic ability, and she’s another one who plays a lot bigger than she actually is.”
The Longhorns continue a season-opening home stand for the next three matches, on a brand-new gym floor new Athletic Director Jason Santo managed to get installed over the summer, and in new uniforms the Longhorn booster club made possible.
Chadbourne couldn’t be more pleased, saying, “We get to start our season in front of our home crowd. We’re really excited to have our fans out. These girls have made volleyball cool again, not only in Basalt but in this Valley. Our junior varsity team is also very strong this year, as is our “C” team. We have three solid teams this year, and they all love to play volleyball.”
That favorable schedule says Saturday afternoon, Sept. 14, while the football team’s hosting Battle Mountain, volleyball will be inside hosting Olathe.
The Grand Valley Cardinals of Parachute arrive Tuesday, Sept. 17, and the big rivalry match with Aspen is set for Thursday night, Sept. 19, before Basalt heads over to Rifle to face the Bears two days later.
Of the Aspen clash, Chadbourne says, “we’re anticipating that match. We obviously know a lot of these girls from the Valley. They also have a very talented team. It’s a fun rivalry. We look forward to playing them every year. They’re usually pretty tight games, and I suspect this year is going to be a tough match. It’ll be a lot of fun to watch. Even if you don’t know anything about volleyball, this will be a fun one to come to, absolutely.”
David Chadbourne says his Longhorn ladies will be thrilled to show local fans their building skills. “I just say come on out and support the program. It’s going to be a fun year. We’ve got a tough schedule, and we’re really looking forward to it. These are some great girls. I’m so proud and privileged to be their coach. We just really have a lot of fun.”