Hayden senior Paul Laliberte pulls up for a shot in the lane Saturday during a scrimmage against Steamboat Springs. Laliberte is one of the Tigers' top returning players after he averaged 20 points per game last season.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Hayden senior Paul Laliberte pulls up for a shot in the lane Saturday during a scrimmage against Steamboat Springs. Laliberte is one of the Tigers' top returning players after he averaged 20 points per game last season.

Hayden boys basketball keeping big-time dreams on the down-low

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— They refuse to actually say it, but listen to the words of the Hayden High School boys basketball team, and it’s there.

What are their expectations for the looming season?

“I’m not going to jinx it,” senior Paul Laliberte said Saturday, cooling off after a scrimmage with Steamboat Springs High School.

Listen, and it’s clear. Check the facts, and it’s obvious.

Hayden was a good team a year ago, running 8-2 through the Western Slope League. It returns four starters and 85 percent of its points. Six of the top seven rebounders from a year ago are back, and that group is filled with seniors who have been logging important minutes since their sophomore seasons.

The goal, even if the Tigers won’t come out and say it, is a deep run in that big tournament at the end of the season: the Class 2A state tournament in March in Pueblo.

“We’re one of the best teams in the state,” Laliberte said.

Laliberte’s a big part of the reason the Tigers can make that claim. He came on board with the team midway through last season and averaged 20 points per game through Hayden’s loss in the first round of the regional tournament.

He showed Saturday that he’ll again be one of the focal points for the squad, draining 3-point shots and driving the lane in a two-hour scrimmage in Steamboat.

The Tigers' backbone, though, again will be in the paint, where seniors Mark Doolin and Jorge Valdez have been fixtures for two seasons. Doolin scored a few more points a year ago, 14 per game to Valdez’s 12. Both were forces on the boards, too, with Valdez hauling down 12 rebounds per game and Doolin nine.

Add in another experienced senior swingman in senior Aaron Cramer, a heap of other seniors who have gained experience at the junior varsity level and a couple of underclassmen ready for bigger roles, and the Tigers find plenty to be confident about.

Now, they’re set on shoring up their defense, which at times let them down a year ago.

“We shouldn’t have a game where we score nearly 70 points and lose,” Cramer said, referring to the 70-67 loss at regionals.

“We know we can play offense, but sometimes last year we would run into that one guy we couldn’t stop,” Cramer said. “We need to figure out how to stop that guy.”

No doubt, they’re confident they’ll figure it out.

Just don’t expect them to talk about it.

“We have high expectations, but we know a lot can happen during the season,” coach Mike Luppes said. “The kids have some very definite goals in mind, and we will have to work very hard to achieve those goals. They are aware of that. They are also aware they can achieve those goals, and that’s a big step forward from wanting those goals to believing you can achieve those goals.”

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com

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