Steamboat Springs Eric Hamilton spent the past week busy coaching the Moffat County High School boys basketball team.
But the shadow he left on the Hayden High School girls hoops program in his three years at the helm still loomed large, and as the Tigers launched into another day of practice Thursday, first-year coach Michelle Wilkie couldn’t help but notice.
“I have some big shoes to fill,” she said.
Hayden made two Class 2A state tournaments in Hamilton’s time, finishing third in 2009. With a fast-break offensive attack and a wilting full-court defense that seems to be the hallmark of any strong girls program these days, his teams regularly finished near the top of the Western Slope League.
That makes the job a challenge, Wilkie admitted, but one she said she’s eager to embrace with a team she’s confident she can help.
“With the expectations of the kids, their parents and the community, the pressure is there,” she said. “My expectations of the players are for them to play hard-core defense, crash the boards, and if we do that, we’ll be successful on the other end.”
Expectations for the coming season, which begins Dec. 1 with a trip to a tournament in Meeker, aren’t simply about what’s been accomplished by recent classes in Hayden. Instead, they’re about what’s coming back from those successful teams.
A few key players will be back from that team, including the pair of post players upon which much of the team’s strategy revolved.
Wilkie hopes seniors Erin Koehler and Aubree Haskins can continue to define games with their presence.
“We need to really focus on getting them the ball every chance we get,” Wilkie said. “They’re big, and they’re strong, and I’m actually hoping to make them a little more physical.
“We don’t want it to be just Aubree and Erin. We need to capitalize on everyone’s strengths, but they’ll definitely be a big part of it.”
Wilkie and first-year assistant coach Holli Palmer have been up late into the night in the past week reviewing game tapes from the past couple of years.
That left them with plenty to like about the 13-7, Great 8 state tournament-qualifying team they inherited but also a few ideas about how to improve it.
They don’t plan to do away with the high-tempo, transition-style offense that characterized the squad, but they do plan to tweak it to better take advantage of the talent that’s on the court.
“The speed will still be there, but we’ll slow it down a little,” Wilkie said. “We’ll focus on running a good, strong offense when we need to.”
In practice, that’s meant more focus on half-court offensive sets while still taking advantage of the quick pace the girls grew to like and the standout teamwork that Wilkie said jumped off the film.
“I don’t want to reinvent the wheel because they’ve been successful. It was working,” Wilkie said. “We’re going to take that, and we’re going to make it better by including some stuff I think is important.”
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com