Steamboat Springs The Hayden High School volleyball team and its cross-county counterpart, Soroco, enter today's district tournament knowing why they are among the bottom seeds.
Soroco is the sixth seed, and Hayden is No. 8 among the eight district teams.
"At times this season we played like an eighth seed," Hayden coach Greg Johnson admitted Thursday afternoon, preparing for the trip to the Meeker tournament.
Still, both are confident they can outplay their seeds and emerge as one of the top two teams in the district.
Action in the two-day tournament kicks off at 9 a.m. today.
Vail Christian reigns as the top seed, ahead of No. 2 Rangely, No. 3 Paonia, No. 4 West Grand, No. 5 Vail Mountain, No. 6 Soroco, No. 7 Meeker and No. 8 Hayden.
Split into two pools, the teams will each get three matches in a round-robin format. The top two teams from each pool will advance to Saturday's semifinals and play for the chance to represent the district in the regional tournament.
The teams that win in the semifinals will advance to regionals, regardless of the outcome of the championship match.
Hayden and Socoro enter the tournament with confidence.
The Rams have taken pride in the fact that they're coming off their most successful season in years.
"Since I've been here, this is the first time we haven't had to play in the pigtail (play-in) game," Soroco coach Kim Reeves said. "To some people, sixth in the league might not seem so great, but to us, it's wonderful. It's a great feeling for the girls."
It's more than that, though. In rolling to that sixth-place finish, Soroco went right over two of the three other teams in its pool. The Rams lost to Rangely in three games but knocked off Meeker and Paonia.
"That's a big motivator and a big confidence booster," Reeves said. "This group has a drive where they feel like they can make it past districts if they go out and play their best.
"I definitely don't think they've accomplished everything they want to accomplish yet."
Hayden, meanwhile, is convinced that it's not entirely the same team that stumbled through the regular season. The Tigers were 0-5 before winning their first match, but they beat Soroco in three games last week. A three-game victory Tuesday against Plateau Valley earned the squad a bid to the tournament.
Two in a row isn't much, but Johnson said it's evidence of the progress he has been looking for from a young team.
"We are peaking at the right time," he said. "We are really starting to come together as a team, to limit our mistakes and play with our hearts. That's what's been missing at times this season, but we are really excited right now."
Despite taking just two league matches, Hayden doesn't expect to catch anyone by surprise.
Hayden opens up against top-seeded Vail Christian and then will face West Grand and Vail Mountain.
"They all know we have the talent," Johnson said. "It's been about putting it together. We've said all season it's about peaking at the right time and playing best at districts.
"I don't think anyone will take us lightly, but if they do, it will be their mistake."