Hayden The Hayden Tigers boys basketball program will be going through some growing pains early on in the season.
Among the 13 players out, the team features two seniors, three juniors, two sophomores and six freshmen.
"This is definitely a rebuilding year for us," Hayden coach Matt Ray said. "But, by the end of the season, we can be a sleeper in the league."
The Tigers return one starter from last year's disappointing 4-12 campaign. Senior Chris Gullet is the Tigers' lone returning starter, and junior Alan Lighthizer is the only remaining player on the squad that has varsity experience.
Last year, eight seniors dominated the Tigers' rotation. This year, Ray will have to call upon younger, less experienced players.
"I am concerned with our experience," Ray said. "When we go up against some experienced teams, I am concerned they may take advantage of our lack of it."
The Tigers started practicing Nov. 12, and so far Ray is encouraged by his team's play.
"The practices have been going great," he said. "The players are working extremely hard."
Ray has been impressed by the freshmen group, which includes, Evan Hilling, Chris Frentress, Cam Whiteman, Levi Sheldon, Kenny German and Tate Claypoole.
Ray expects for Hilling, Frentress and Whiteman to contribute right away.
Joining the Tigers' youth movement are two sophomores, Zack Wheelock and Dustin Driscoll, who saw some limited varsity action last year.
Although Ray is impressed by the play of these underclassmen, the third-year coach will be relying on his juniors and seniors for leadership.
Lighthizer leads a talented junior bunch that also includes Cody Puckett and Evan Sundburg.
Gullet and Danny Hayden are the only two seniors on the team. Although Hayden is a senior, this is his first year, Ray said.
To compete with the teams in the Western Slope League, Ray is relying on his team's speed and quickness.
"If our speed game works out the way it can, it could be a very good season," Ray said. "If not, it will be a long season."
Along with inexperience, Ray is also concerned about the Tigers' lack of size at the center and forward positions.
Even if the Tigers have a disappointing season, Ray is optimistic this is a year the Tigers can build upon.
"Right now, we are waiting and biting our time," he said. "We have excellent young players and a great eighth-grade class.
"If our young players keep working hard and do what they have to do, we can be a top team in the league."
The Tigers will open up the season this Friday when they travel to Baggs, Wyo., to take on Snake River High School.