At small schools, it isn't uncommon for athletes to get their varsity starts early on.
When Hayden volleyball coach Becky Burdick listed off her returning players for the 2005 season, she had the luxury of reeling off names with experience.
Seniors Mariah Doolin, Sara Sumerlin, Alicia Hall and Chelsea Fry are back this year. In addition, Justine Bedell and Jessica Martin have played varsity in the past. The Tigers also are looking for juniors Katy Koehler and Jenny Medvesk and sophomore Jacqueline Denker to help fill spots, as well.
The only true newcomer is freshman Kylee Sweetser.
"I'm really excited," Burdick said. "They are all strong hitters. I think, overall, this should be an awesome season."
Hayden opens with the Aspen Tournament on Saturday in Aspen. The Tigers will be up against teams from Aspen, Cedaredge and Vail Christian.
Hayden begins Western Slope League play against North Park on Sept. 10 in Hayden.
North Park, Meeker and Rangely traditionally are the teams to beat in the league, but Hayden has been competitive with those teams in the past.
"They have to believe in themselves," Burdick said.
During practices in the hot gymnasium, Burdick has noticed the Tigers come together.
"They are all very good friends," she said. "It makes a difference."
Burdick praised her senior class for its leadership early on. Now, in her second year coaching, Burdick added that she is more comfortable, as well.
"We are doing a lot of things differently," she said. "We're really pushing them to work hard and get them prepared for those first matches."
-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail mmawdsley@steamboatpilot.