Steamboat Springs Don't be fooled by a sophomore-heavy varsity roster. The Hayden girls basketball team has high hopes for the 2002-03 season.
The return of three starters and nine letter winners has the word "state" spinning around the locker room, sophomore Alycia Boyd said.
"We're small but we work hard," she said.
Donny Rolando enters his seventh year as the Tigers coach and he feels his team is one of the best in the 2A Western Slope league, despite the additions of Rangely, Meeker and Paonia.
Rolando figures North Park will be the team to beat in league play but he feels Hayden should hover near the top as well.
"We expect to compete for second place," he said.
Bolstered by leadership from Adriana Svoboda, the lone senior on the team, and a sophomore class that has played together since fifth grade, the Tigers hope to build on experiences gained in last year's 7-11 campaign.
Playing underclassmen, especially freshmen, is not always an ideal situation. Hayden found itself in three close games last year two were against league opponents. The Tigers lost all three.
"We weren't experienced to face adversity," Rolando said.
This year, Rolando, assistant coach Randy McDonald and their team believe Hayden has what it takes to win those close contests, and the ability to pull games out could play a crucial role in the girls achieving their season goal.
Hayden figures its speed will as well.
"Our team isn't big, but we'll work hard," sophomore Alisha Henry said. "We can do it."
Rolando said his Tigers teams have never really been blessed with great height. In fact, sophomore Kayla Kostur, the team's leading scorer last season, is one of the tallest players Rolando can remember. Kostur stands around 5-foot-11.
Rolando believes, however, his team will be faster than anyone it faces. With an emphasis on defense this season, Hayden should be able to capitalize quickly on any opponent turnover.
"He's definitely getting us in shape," Boyd said.
The additions of Paonia, Rangely and Meeker have shaken up the schedule a bit. Instead of facing each league opponent twice with both counting toward league records, Hayden will face every team once or twice but only one contest will count toward the final league results.
The Tigers open play Dec 5 at the Meeker Tournament. Their first home game will be Dec. 17 against the Moffat County JV. Hayden's league opener is against Paonia Jan 10 in Hayden.