Hayden senior Rachael Koehler drives to the basket Tuesday during basketball practice in Hayden. The team starts its season today at a tournament in Meeker.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Hayden senior Rachael Koehler drives to the basket Tuesday during basketball practice in Hayden. The team starts its season today at a tournament in Meeker.

Tigers girls basketball eager to prove state run wasn’t a fluke

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Hayden girls schedule

Today: TBA vs. Altamont, Utah, at Meeker Tournament

Friday: TBA at Meeker Tournament

Saturday: TBA at Meeker Tournament

Dec. 11: 7:30 p.m. at Soroco

Dec. 17 to 19: TBA at Green River, Wyo., Tournament

Jan. 8: TBA at West Grand

Jan. 9: 4 p.m. vs. Plateau Valley

Jan. 15: TBA at Meeker

Jan. 16: TBA at De Beque

Jan. 22: TBA vs. Vail Christian

Jan. 26: 6:30 p.m. vs. Little Snake River, Wyo.

Jan. 29: 4:30 p.m. at North Park

Jan. 30: TBA vs. Rangely

Feb. 4: 6:30 p.m. at Little Snake River, Wyo.

Feb. 5: 5 p.m. at Paonia

Feb. 9: 6 p.m. vs. North Park

Feb. 12: 6:30 p.m. vs. Soroco

Feb. 20: TBA District tournament first round

Feb. 26 and 27: TBA District tournament at Rangely

— They fully expect the doubt. And, really, who could blame the skeptical?

The Hayden girls basketball team enjoyed the most successful season in its history a year ago, but that trip to the state basketball tournament — a journey that ended in a third-place finish — seemed to come on the backs of a trio of standout seniors. That group accounted for the vast majority of the team’s scoring, rebounding and leadership.

So those Tigers who do return — a pair of starters and seven others with state tournament experience — understand that some will doubt.

They’re intent on proving everyone wrong.

“People think we lost a lot, and we did,” senior and returning starter Jarah Woodley said. “But we have a lot of players returning that have had experience. We’ll definitely surprise some people.”

Really, it should be “surprise some people again.” Despite a talented then-senior class, last year’s Hayden basketball team was a surprise, too. The team opened the season with 10 consecutive wins before losing its first game, a major turnaround from the previous season.

Part of the impetus for that course correction was coach Eric Hamilton, who introduced the high-intensity full-court press defense that came to define Hayden’s style. Hamilton said teaching that system already is easier in his second year at the school.

“We started way ahead of where we were last year,” he said. “Instead of teaching all new things, we picked up where we left off. The girls could step right into the varsity roles.”

Still, there’s a lot of slack to be picked up from last year’s team.

Leading the way likely will be two returning starters from the state squad. Woodley played guard throughout the season, and Rachael Koehler was the team’s tallest post player.

Both are now seniors and will be key to any drive these Tigers make.

“The seniors have to step in and be great leaders like our seniors from last year,” Hamilton said. “So far, I can’t see a void at all.”

Hamilton said he has plenty of options to fill the remaining three starting spots.

Junior guard Delanie VeDe­po was one of the team’s two substitutes and was nails in the state tournament. Senior Calla Manzanares is perhaps the team’s fastest player. Sophomore Erin Koehler could become every bit the inside threat her sister, Rachael, is. Kyra Rolando, meanwhile, scored at the state tournament and has wowed Hamilton early this winter.

“She’s so dang fast,” he said. “She comes with about 120 percent effort every night. The whole team should practice like that.”

The team starts its season today at a tournament in Meeker, where Hayden won all three games a year ago. The Tigers open up against a team from Altamont, Utah, and could face a second-round game against Telluride or rival Meeker.

The Tigers and Cowboys played four times last year. Hayden won the first two but lost in the district tournament. It rebounded to win against Meeker in the third-place game at state.

“Our first goal of the year is to go down there and defend our championship,” Hamilton said. “If we get focused, we’ll do really well. We want to win it.”

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