Hayden girls make school history

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— Ask Hayden girls basketball coach Eric Hamilton or any of the girls on his team whether they're surprised with their position and a funny look falls across their faces.

It's a look of bewilderment.

The bewilderment stems not from the fact the Tigers are in the 2A Girls State Basketball Tournament for the first time in school history but, rather, that the question of whether they're surprised is even asked.

When sixth-seeded Hayden opens against No. 3 Sanford at 1:15 p.m. today at Massari Fieldhouse in Pueblo, it's exactly where Hamilton and the rest of his team expected to be.

"I'm not surprised at all," Hamilton said Tuesday. "This is what we set goals for since last summer. We set this goal the first week that we started summer practice. We talked about that we wanted to be the first Hayden team to go to state. That was the first goal we set."

But now that the goal has been reached, Hayden is not satisfied. When the goal of making the state tournament was written down on the board early in the summer, there was another goal right below it.

Win the whole thing.

"Yup, our goal is to go win the state championship," Hamilton said. "We put it on paper, we've talked about it, and that's our ultimate team goal. I think we have as good a shot as anybody."

In 19-5 Sanford, Hayden encounters a balanced team that relies on multiple players to score. The Indians like to push the ball and rely heavily on their defense. In its regional championship against Las Animas, Sanford was able to handle multiple post players.

Whether the Indians can handle the 21-3 Tigers rests largely on the shoulders of senior forward Holli Salazar, who might be the biggest difference in the game.

Salazar averaged more than 17 points per game this season. She said at this point, she's ready for just about anything teams throw at her.

"I'm going in there thinking I know how to play against certain teams," Salazar said. "I've played against single teams and double teams."

Hamilton said another big factor in the game might be who can dictate the pace of play. Since both teams like to use pressure defense, Hamilton said if the Tigers can impose their will early on, they should be able to advance.

"We have to play defense and take care of the ball against pressure," Hamilton said. "But we're happy with our first-round game. We have to get that one done and get ready for the next one."

The Hayden-Sanford winner plays the winner of the Paonia and Merino game at 8:30 p.m. Friday.

Hayden lost to Paonia, 54-49, earlier this year.

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