Steamboat Pilot & Today sports reporter and photographer Joel Reichenberger can be reached at 871-4253 or jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com.
Find more columns by Joel here.
The state basketball tournament is supposed to be the land of legends.
Think “Hoosiers,” or for a closer example, last year’s Hayden High School girls basketball team.
That squad came back from a dismal season to dominate. It took advantage of an uber-athletic class of seniors, a few underclassmen that fit in just right, and a new coach to cruise to the state tournament and finish third. It was the best year in the history of the program.
The tournament isn’t always the realm of fairy tale, however, as the Hayden boys team found out Thursday and Friday.
The Tigers were in a bad spot from the opening whistle. One of the team’s best players, senior Murphy Smartt, was playing with an anterior cruciate ligament that he partially tore in the team’s regional championship victory.
He managed to gut it out through much of the first game at state, but the ACL ripped all the way through in the fourth quarter, and he didn’t play again.
With just one win, Hayden would have placed, at worse, sixth. As it is, it earned no place and joined hundreds of other high school teams in postseason anonymity.
That seems like a frustrating end to a season in which it all came together for the team.
Hayden was at its best late and entered state with the confidence to play and beat any opponent.
It had all the right players with all the right experience. Smartt led a talented and athletic group of forwards. Seniors Rene and Raul Valdez emerged to become not just role players, but legitimate scoring threats capable of stepping up whenever needed.
Junior Graig Medvesk proved that he was perhaps the best guard in the Western Slope, and his classmate, Ben Williams, was plenty capable of big scoring nights, as well.
It was all right, all ready and all there for the taking. It all fell apart so fast.
So what did the team get out of its trip? Just disappointment?
Not even close.
Experience on a stage that big is great for any returning player. The team may have even found a way to start the admittedly long process of replacing seniors like the Valdez brothers and Smartt. Freshman Mark Doolin saw some of his most significant minutes of the season with Smartt out. Next year, that experience will be priceless.
But the real value of the trip to Pueblo doesn’t have much of anything to do with basketball.
State’s a special place, even if you lose in two games and have to go home before you want to.
The whole experience — the crowded arena, the high-profile opponents and just the fun of a road trip — was great for the entire team and its fan base.
It was two days that could have gone a whole lot better, but they were still two good days to be a Hayden Tiger.