Tigers, Rams reignite rivalry tonight in Hayden

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If you go

What: Hayden boys and girls basketball versus Soroco

When: Girls at 6:30 p.m., boys at 8 p.m. today

Where: Hayden High School

— It might be easy to assume the Soroco boys basketball team is eyeing Hayden because the teams’ match-up, at 8 p.m. today after the 6:30 p.m. girls game in Hayden, will play a big role in sorting out the muddled Western Slope league standings.

The winner will take command of second place in the league. Hayden could claim it outright, and Soroco could come within one win of doing so.

That’s not giving the frothing rivalry that’s boiled up between the two enough credit, however.

When the Tigers and Rams butt heads, the league standings will matter — almost as much as capitalizing on an opportunity to ruin a rival’s night.

“Our kids are pretty pumped up,” Soroco coach Sam McLeod said. “We’re excited for this opportunity. This is a big game for us, and it’s a big game for them. There’s a lot at stake.”

Hayden claimed the season’s first run-in between the two teams, knocking off Soroco in the first game of the season, 46-37. Both squads are quick to admit that was a long time ago, however.

Soroco in particular has morphed into an entirely different beast in the 10 weeks between games. On Dec. 2, 2009, Soroco, for all practical purposes, was playing without the starting forwards it’s grown to rely on. Senior Matt Watwood was sidelined with an injury sustained during the football season. Junior Leif Carlson, meanwhile, was playing his very first organized basketball game.

Fast forward two months and Watwood is back and healthy, a strong, physical presence in the paint. Carlson, meanwhile, is fresh off a career game in which he scored 19 points and has developed into a reliable low-post option and a vicious rebounder.

“We know they’re going to be coming after us,” Hayden coach Mike Luppes said. “We’ve taken care of them the last couple of years, and they want to put an end to that. They’re playing much better as a team than they were the first time. “

Hayden, too, feels it’s a different squad.

The Hayden of the past two years has been a streaky squad capable of playing with anyone but susceptible to playing down to the level of less talented teams.

The Tigers now have navigated the Western Slope minefield with only one loss, that one coming on the road against league-leading Meeker.

“They’re so athletic,” McLeod said. “They’ve got great length, and their big guys are fast. That makes them tough to guard.

“What I told the team, Hayden is ahead of us right now. They’re in second. I think we have the players to play with them, but if we want it, we’re going to have to go take it.”

Soroco girls look for upset in game against Hayden

For the Hayden girls basketball team, a strong showing against Soroco is about more than maintaining the league standings or tallying a win. The squad was offensively inept in a pair of losses last week.

It exorcised many of its demons Tuesday as it shellacked a usually tough North Park squad and scored 71 points in doing so, but with the all-important district tournament just a week away, the team is looking for another pick-me-up performance.

“We really needed a game like Tuesday’s to get our confidence back. That was a great game for the girls, and they had a lot of fun playing basketball,” Hayden coach Eric Hamilton said. “We need to do that again. We don’t need any more negative games. We need a positive experience, a dominating game.”

To that end, Hayden hopes to squeeze Soroco the way it has for the past two years: with a fast and physical full-court press on defense and a pound-it-in low-post attack.

That might mean big days for forwards Rachael Koehler and her sister, Erin Koehler. Both possess significant height advantages against Soroco’s post players.

“We can’t score 26 points or 30 points and beat anyone,” Hamilton said. “We want our post players to score a lot. We need to take advantage of our size. When they’re scoring, the whole team feeds of that. The rest of the girls just kind of take off.”

Soroco, meanwhile, has plans of its own.

The Rams are coming off a bruising loss to Class 2A No. 1 Paonia, but won their previous game, knocking off West Grand with a last-second shot.

“If we come out and play our best game and hold them down inside, we definitely have a shot,” Soroco coach David Bruner said. “Winning this game wouldn’t really mean much for the league standings or for the season, but confidence wise, for our girls this would mean a lot.”

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