Steamboat Springs Since practices began in a stuffy gym three months ago, a banner wearing 1976 has looked down upon the Hayden volleyball team.
It was the last year a Tigers team advanced to regionals the one short stop before reaching the hallowed courts of the state volleyball tournament.
Hayden coach Kipp Rillos said it's hard not to look up and think this year might end the 25-year drought.
"The girls were looking at that (Tuesday)," Rillos said. "I definitely think they have the ability to go down there and do well. It's a matter of how we show up and play."
The Tigers (10-9 overall, 5-3 in the league) enter Saturday's district tournament in Paonia as the No. 3 seed after finishing third in a tough Western Slope league.
North Park (No. 1) and Meeker (No. 2) finished ahead of Hayden.
"To finish third in the league, you have to feel pretty good about that," Rillos said.
Particularly since the 2002 season was a wild card. The Tigers did boast 11 seniors on their 13-person varsity roster, but Rillos was unsure how the league would pan out with the additions Rangely, Meeker and Paonia all former 3A schools.
It turned out to be as tough as expected, but Hayden was right in the mix.
"We've got a very competitive league," Rillos said. "It will make for a great tournament. It'll be a lot of fun."
Hayden will join Paonia, West Grand and Meeker in the second pool. The team will open play Saturday at 9:15 a.m. against the host school. Hayden will follow that match with contests against West Grand at 11:15 a.m. and Meeker at 1:15 p.m.
The top two teams from each pool will advance to the semifinals, and the winners of the semifinals will vie for a No. 1 regional seed. The loser will advance to regionals with a lower seed.
"I feel pretty good about our pool," Rillos said.
The Tigers went 2-0 against West Grand, but 0-2 against Paonia and Meeker. However, Rillos said his team did not play well against Paonia back on Sept. 14 and has the ability to fare much better this time around.
"We played far from our best volleyball," Rillos said. "That's one of the teams we should be able to win against. They are a good team. They hit well and cover the court. It's funny. It's anybody's league."
The fact that Hayden defeated Western Slope champion North Park earlier this season should give the Tigers some confidence heading into district play. A third-place league finish, secured by a recent victory over Soroco, should provide an additional emotional boost.
Rillos said his team continues to have the play-hard-but-have-fun mentality, which is a great approach for a senior-heavy team to take.
If the Tigers have their way, they'll carry it into the regional round of the postseason and add 2002 to the gym banner.