The Class 2A state basketball tournament will be played starting Thursday at Colorado State University-Pueblo’s Massari Arena in Pueblo. First-round match-ups include:
■ No. 1 Sedgwick County, 19-3, vs. No. 8 Holyoke, 9-14, 10:15 a.m.
■ No. 4 Evangelical Christian, 22-2, vs. No. 5 Hayden, 18-5, 5:30 p.m.
■ No. 3 Rye, 21-3, vs. No. 6 Lutheran-Parker, 20-3, 8:30 p.m.
■ No. 2 Akron, 19-4, vs. No. 7 Sanford, 19-4, 1:15 p.m.
Steamboat Springs The challenges standing between the Hayden High School girls basketball team and a state championship became clear Sunday.
The Tigers were slotted as the No. 5 seed in the Great 8 state tournament. They will play at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in Pueblo against No. 4 Evangelical Christian.
“It’s setting in,” Hayden coach Eric Hamilton said about his emotions, the day after the Tigers rallied past Swink to advance to Pueblo.
“There was a lot of emotion and now you get thinking about all you really accomplished this year,” he said. “Now we have to try and get prepared and ready for who we’re playing.”
That may take a while. The Evangelical Christian Eagles should prove one of the toughest teams the Tigers have seen all season. The Colorado Springs-based school has won 12 straight to close out its season, dominating the District 8 tournament before overcoming a fourth-quarter deficit to beat Las Animas in its regional championship.
The team will travel to Pueblo with the best record in the tournament, at 22-2.
Sedgwick County was labeled the weekend’s top seed, though, with a 19-3 record. Sedgwick County will face No. 8, Class 2A’s Cinderella team, Holyoke, whom it’s already beaten three times this season.
No. 2 Akron will take on No. 7 Sanford, while No. 3 Rye gets No. 6 Lutheran-Parker. Outside of Holyoke, which has a 9-14 record, the field is tightly packed. Hayden’s five losses are the second most among tournament teams.
The Tigers are not among the four teams in the field who return from last year’s state tournament, but that doesn’t mean Hayden’s short on experience at the big show. A few of this year’s players were on the varsity roster when Hayden finished third at state in 2009.
Seniors Delanie VeDepo and Kyra Rolando saw big minutes in those games.
Still, this is a drastically different kind of Tigers team. The 2009 version was in its first year working under Hamilton and led by a class of explosive seniors who were among the best players in the state.
This year’s team often spreads the scoring 10 players deep.
“You can’t compare the two teams,” Hamilton said. “This team was so determined. They have a lot of confidence, and they really never believed they were going to get beat.
“That’s what pulled us through the weekend.”
The Tigers will find out Thursday if that dedication can carry the team to three more victories and the school’s first basketball state championship.
— To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or e-mail jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com