Luke Graham's column appears periodically in the Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4229 or lgraham@SteamboatToday.com.
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Walking into the West Grand gymnasium Saturday during the District 5 tournament, the first person I saw was former Hayden High School girls basketball coach Eric Hamilton.
After a few pleasantries, it was easy to think back to when Hamilton decided to take the Moffat County boys job.
Simply put, we thought Hayden was done. We thought the Tigers mini run under Hamilton, which included two runs to state, was over. Hamilton had a way of getting the absolute best out of his players, and his uptempo style worked wonders.
Flash forward to Saturday, and it’s weird what three months can do.
Michelle Wilkie took over the Tigers this season. I didn’t know what to expect. I honestly didn’t think Hayden would be that good.
I knew about Aubree Haskins and Erin Koehler, but beyond that, I thought the Tigers would struggle to keep pace with teams in their league.
Wilkie used the District 5 tournament to disprove that.
On Friday, Hayden gave Paonia all it could handle for 22 of the 32 minutes. Then on Saturday, against a Rangely team that beat Hayden at home just a month ago, the Tigers took the Panthers apart with precision.
The Tigers continually fed the ball inside, got easy basket after easy basket and eventually ran away with the game.
In both games — despite what she will say — Wilkie needs a big tip of the cap. Against Paonia, a 1-2-2 zone frustrated the Eagles for three quarters before Paonia’s incredible depth wore Hayden.
On Saturday, things weren’t as close. Hayden dictated play much more by slowing things down and relentlessly pounding the ball inside.
Wilkie said after the game that only an idiot wouldn’t go inside to a pair of 6-foot tall girls.
This season, Wilkie has proven herself anything but an idiot. She obviously comes from great coaching bloodlines, but what she has done this season is quite remarkable.
Despite having a limited roster and lots of inexperience at the guard position, somehow Wilkie has felt her way through Year 1.
She has gotten production from her backcourt and from her formidable front court.
Maybe the biggest thing is Hayden is back in the regional tournament Friday and Saturday.
Although the Tigers will be the third of four seeds, it’s hard to imagine a team having a better pair of forwards.
With what Wilkie did to plan for Paonia — my pick to win Class 2A — and how she put her players in great position Saturday against Rangely, anything can happen this weekend.
So while Hamilton watched Saturday, and his former players still respect him, Wilkie has shown her worth and put her stamp on the program.
To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com