Hayden High School junior Hunter Johnston goes in for a layup during Saturday’s scrimmage with Steamboat Springs High School.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Hayden High School junior Hunter Johnston goes in for a layup during Saturday’s scrimmage with Steamboat Springs High School.

Hayden basketball to rely on returning seniors

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Hayden High School boys basketball coach Mike Luppes talks to his players during Saturday's scrimmage against Steamboat Springs.

Hayden schedule

Dec. 9 to 11, Meeker Tournament, TBA

Dec. 17 vs. North Park, 8:30 p.m.

Jan. 6 at Moffat County freshmen, 6:30 p.m.

Jan. 7 vs. Meeker, 8:30 p.m.

Jan. 11 at Vail Christian, 8:30 p.m.

Jan. 14 vs. West Grand, 8:30 p.m.

Jan. 15 at North Park, 5:30 p.m.

Jan. 21 vs. DeBeque, 6:30 p.m.

Jan. 22 vs. Vail Mountain, 5:30 p.m.

Jan. 25 vs. Moffat County freshmen, 6:30 p.m.

Jan. 28 at Soroco, 8:30 p.m.

Jan. 29 at Rangely, 5:30 p.m.

Feb. 1 vs. Vail Christian, 6:30 p.m.

Feb. 4 at Plateau Valley, 8:30 p.m.

Feb. 5 vs. Paonia, 5:30 p.m.

Feb. 11 vs. Soroco, 8:30 p.m.

Feb. 12 at West Grand, 5:30 p.m.

Feb. 15 at Baggs, Wyo., 6:30 p.m.

Feb. 18 at Vail Mountain, 5:30 p.m.

Feb. 25 and 26 District tournament, TBA

— The returning strength of the Hayden High School boys basketball team is obvious.

The team returns two starters that last season ranked among the best in the Western Slope League, seniors Graig Medvesk and Ben Williams.

The questions plaguing this year’s team are equally obvious. The squad graduated the vast majority of its varsity experience at the forward positions.

If the team is to replicate last year’s drive to the state basketball tournament in Pueblo, it will have to answer those questions.

“The potential is there,” Hayden coach Mike Luppes said. “There’s a lot of development that needs to happen yet. A lot of that is just getting in there, getting playing

and getting some game time. But we are really excited about the potential.”

Hayden starts with a slow schedule, playing just four times before winter break. That could turn out to be a blessing for a team desperately in need of experience on the court. The squad will suit up a huge class of nine seniors, but outside Medvesk and Williams, few have significant varsity experience.

The team graduated starters Murphy Smartt, Raul Valdez and Rene Valdez, all important pieces of last year’s playoff run.

“You can’t replace those guys. They were good basketball players, but the guys we have now, they have a ways to go, but they can get there,” Medvesk said.

The team will be looking for strong play from a large stable of contenders, including seniors Justin Moon, Dayton Dowling, Brandon Ray, Josh Hines, Casey Zabel, Hayden Blake and Brian Hoza. Soph­­­omores Mark Doolin and Jorge Valdez should help down low, while junior

Hunter Johnston will see time at guard.

The process of introducing so many new players to the varsity level wasn’t helped by the Tiger football team’s advancement to the quarterfinals of the Class 1A state football playoffs. Football players have been able to log just one week of practice so far.

Luppes said that showed in Saturday’s scrimmage against Steamboat Springs High Sch­ool. He came away pleased with his team’s offensive performance. That’s where focus, for the most part, has gone so far.

The defense, however, needs work, he said.

“We spent more time this week preparing the offense, but we have a long ways to go yet,” he said. “Overall, for where we’re starting, we’re pleased with how things are going so far.

“By the end of the season, we’ll be a good basketball team. We have to have a lot of good things happen, a lot of development, and we need some kids to step up, but we can be a good team by the end of the year.”

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