Congratulations, Kelsey, you’re in very good company
Christina Aiello made covering Battle Mountain sports easy.If Battle Mountain baseball and girls’ soccer had games at the same time, I’d just sit along the third baseline. I’d watch the baseball game, but also keep track of soccer by watching a colored dot go back and forth on the soccer pitch behind the right-field fence.Aiello, as some teenagers do, was going through a punk-rock phase at the time, so she would always be easy to spot with blue or pink hair. When the dot bounced up and down, odds were good that Aiello had just scored.She did so often, starting with a hat trick against Moffat County in 1998 and finishing up with a staggering 57 career goals by the end of 2001.Kelsey Sanders passed her on the list Thursday with two against those same Bulldogs, just as the senior striker, along with Julia Burnett, erased Aiello’s single-season mark of 24 last year.”I’m glad to see someone like Kelsey break the record because I’ve known Kelsey forever,” said Aiello from Henniker, N.H., where she is finishing up at New England College. “Her dad played softball with my dad. I actually worked for Jim (Sanders) and I saw her growing up playing rec soccer for Jim and Joel (Rabinowitz). It’s good to see that she had put that much determination and focus into soccer, to get it done. For her to do it is amazing. I’m glad that it’s someone I know and seen play.”‘The Aiello Goal’To appreciate what Sanders just did Thursday, you need to know not just what Aiello accomplished in her four years at Battle Mountain – but how she did it and what she’s done since.There have been signature moves and sights to Battle Mountain soccer during my 10 years – James Stevenson’s step-over pass, Evie Gonzales’ orange boots or Morgan Wallace’s steady presence, just to name a few.Then there is “The Aiello Goal.” Just like Sanders. Aiello was fast. She would run onto the ball, and good luck to any goalie who got in her way. The goalie always seemed to be on the wrong end of countless collisions.Let’s be clear – Aiello was a clean player. It’s also not like Aiello was Shaquille O’Neal running into the goalie equivalent of Earl Boykins. Aiello is 5-foot-4. She was just tough.She showed that on the football field her senior year, putting on the pads. She also played goalie for girls’ club teams in the Vail Junior Hockey Association. (I always found that hilarious. I suppose that running into goalies during soccer season toughened her up for hockey.)Beyond her style of play and the mere statistical significance of 57 goals, Aiello was one of the young ladies who paved the way for the current success of Battle Mountain girls’ soccer. Aiello’s freshman year came just one year after the Huskies started the program in 1997.Girls’ soccer? Heck, in 1997, David Cope’s boys’ team registered hardly a blip on the radar screen. It was people like Aiello who helped legitimize girls’ soccer at Battle Mountain and help see it through the transition from 3A to 4A.While the postseason is now generally taken for granted in Eagle-Vail, in the final regular season game of Aiello’s career, the Huskies needed a 6-1 win over Palisade to capture the 4A Slope’s final berth.”It’s amazing,” Aiello said. “I remember that Steamboat was at the top of our league when I was playing. … For them to switch it around and be the top team in the conference is just an incredible feat. It’s really comforting to know that the program has flourished and the younger generations are coming up and wanting to compete at a high level.”Getting ready to walkWhen I called Aiello Wednesday to talk about Sanders breaking her record, she was busy. She was working on a video, which she’s directing, for the New England College’s athletic program for incoming freshmen on college life. She’s definitely grown in her years away from home.Aiello’s continued her athletic career playing hockey, softball and soccer – in the fall – for the Pilgrims.”You’re used to the snow in the beginning of the season and not at the end,” she joked.Not only was it an adjustment to be playing at the college level, but balancing three varsity sports with academics has been a good experience for the theater major. “It’s insane,” Aiello said. “You’ve got to keep up on your work and you’re missing a lot of your classes for road trips. It’s a tough schedule to keep playing college athletics. Freshman year, it was a struggle getting used to the whole thing, but through the years, you learn that you have to get your work done on time. Those deadlines creep up on you real quick.”College took an unexpected turn on Sept. 22, 2005, when Aiello’s father, Tony, was in an auto accident in Wyoming, which left him in a coma for two months.Jan, Aiello’s mother, was visiting Christina at school, where she was planning to play a soccer game when they got the call. “It was just one of the most crushing days of my life,” Aiello said. “My teammates stood behind me. My coach stood behind me. It was kind of a mixed feeling, wondering, ‘Should I be on the field now,’ or ‘Should I be at home helping out?’ My mom told me that I needed to go back and do my school and get everything finished and keep plugging along. I did what she said.”Aiello will walk across the stage on May 12 to accept her diploma and Tony, who is gradually on the mend, and her family will be there cheering her on. May 12 is also the second round of the 4A state soccer playoffs, and Sanders and the Huskies hope to be playing on that day and beyond.In the meantime, congratulations, Kelsey, you’re in very good company.Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 748-2934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.