Luke Graham's column appears periodically in the Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4229 or lgraham@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs Sometime in the past three years, basketball in Hayden started to matter again.
Friday’s boys and girls games against West Grand were two of the most well-attended high school games, outside of football playoffs, that have taken place in Hayden in the past five years. I haven’t had to park that far away from the school, maybe, ever.
How did this happen?
It’s pretty simple. When teams win, people care.
If Tigers basketball has proved anything the past three years, it’s that it can win.
The success starts with girls coach Eric Hamilton and boys coach Mike Luppes. Each instilled an uptempo, pressuring style that fits into the type of athletes generally found at Hayden High School.
But maybe more than anything, each team has realized how to play to its strengths.
Too often, high school coaches get too ingrained into one system and don’t deviate. Besides, no matter how good a coach is, how well he prepares his team or how he manages a game, it’s still the players who ultimately decide the outcome.
Hamilton and Luppes have realized this. It’s also helped that they have top-end talent.
Three seasons ago, Hamilton took a deep, veteran team to a third-place finish at state. Last season, he tried to run the same system with a different team. The Tigers weren’t deep enough to run his press or his end-to-end pace.
But Hamilton learned. This season, he adjusted his style. The Tigers still like to go up and down the court with speed, and their press still is the lifeblood of their team. However, they’re much more polished in the half-court offense, making them tougher to defend.
With Erin Koehler and Aubree Haskins at the forward positions, and a slew of talented guards, this may be the best Hayden team Hamilton’s had.
For Luppes, it’s a little bit different. Last season, it looked like he’d have an athletic team with limited basketball skills.
That was the case, at least early on. Hayden rarely encountered players more athletic than they were.
So Luppes used that to the Tigers advantage, crashing the boards and beating teams up inside.
This season, though, could be even more impressive. Sure, Hayden returned guards Ben Williams and Graig Medvesk — who, for my money, is the best player in Routt County — but putting players around those two to complement them might have been Luppes’ best adjustment.
Jorge Valdez has limited experience but has provided unbelievable numbers the past few games.
With Medvesk’s ability and the surrounding cast of athletic players, the Hayden boys are only going to get better.
Now, with each team poised to hit league play, it is not out of the realm to see the boys and the girls contending for league titles and return trips to the state playoffs in Pueblo.
Should that happen, Hayden would have not just a couple of one-hit wonders, but the makings of an actual basketball school.
— To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229
or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org