As a relatively late hire, Katherine Keel was somewhat thrown into the fire. The new Aspen High School girls swim coach didn’t have much time to prepare nor does she have much of a roster to work with, but she’s ready to lay the foundation for the future.
Not that the program hasn’t been anything but elite in recent years.
“When you get to high school age a lot of these girls have already committed. Even if it’s just to be a high school swimmer, they want to do this and they are all in,” Keel said. “I feel really capable and competent as far as writing workouts and leading the girls and creating a positive culture of acceptance and hard work. It’s just been a lot of figuring out logistics and connecting all the dots behind the scenes. But it’s starting to make sense.”
The Skiers opened their season Wednesday in a tri-meet hosted by Glenwood Springs, taking third despite having only four swimmers compete. Glenwood, which won, had 26 swimmers and Summit had 34. AHS finished only three points back of the Tigers and won five individual events and two relays.
The numbers are lacking in terms of physical swimmers for Aspen, meaning winning meets or competing for a state championship might be too tall of a task. But the individual talent is not of question for the first-year coach, despite the youth.
“Just from a numbers game, this is definitely a rebuilding year,” Keel said. “We can definitely put up some impressive times and score some points, but I think my biggest focus is at the micro level and kind of building those foundational blocks for the future.”
Keel took over for Kathleen Callahan, who stepped aside for family reasons but has helped Keel transition into her role as coach. Callahan guided Aspen to the inaugural Class 3A state championship in 2017, a first for the program. The team followed by finishing eighth in 2018 and fourth last winter.
The Skiers said goodbye to a deep senior class that included Davy Brown, who won a pair of individual state titles in 2019. They had no juniors a season ago; therefore, the Skiers have no seniors on this year’s roster.
However, returning are some key contributors from a year ago such as Ava Cherry, Emily Kinney, Kayla Tehrani and Laila Khan-Farooqi. The latter three, along with Brown, won the 200-yard freestyle relay at state last season.
“We have a really young team,” Keel said. “Although I wish we had bigger numbers, I think having a younger team is great because you can kind of set the tone and the intention and the expectation and these girls are going to continue to swim for years to come.”
Keel, 29, is a native of Tennessee who swam for the University of North Carolina, where she specialized in the breaststroke. She’s lived in Colorado for about seven years, the past two and a half here in the Roaring Fork Valley. She has some coaching background, including as an assistant high school coach on the Front Range.
“I was looking for a way to get back to being on deck and back to swimming,” Keel said. “I liked working with the high school girls because I feel like it’s a really impressionable age and there is a lot they can learn. … They all care about it. They are passionate about it. The desire is there. I don’t have to create the excitement.”
The Basalt High School wrestling team competed Wednesday at Moffat County, losing 54-18 but going 2-2 in contested matches. Ruben Samuelson (170 pounds) and Jose Castorena (182 pounds) earned the wins for the Longhorns. Basalt’s losses came at 152 pounds and 160 pounds. BHS next is scheduled to compete Thursday at Grand Valley.
The Aspen High School hockey team started its season Wednesday, losing 6-1 at Battle Mountain. The Skiers will try and rebound on Saturday morning when Crested Butte visits Lewis Ice Arena for the team’s home opener.