Kayla Dunckley goes for a layup Friday against West Grand. The Tigers won their third game of the season, beating West Grand, 51-36.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Kayla Dunckley goes for a layup Friday against West Grand. The Tigers won their third game of the season, beating West Grand, 51-36.

Hayden girls basketball hits new high with 3rd win of season

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2012-13 Tigers girls basketball schedule

— The Hayden High School girls basketball team’s improvement has been obvious on the court and in its record. Considering the team entered January with one win, it hasn’t exactly been difficult to track.

Still, Friday offered a unique opportunity to chart the program’s progress, and the Tigers jumped off the charts.

Hayden lost at West Grand, 46-31, on Jan. 11, giving up 22 points in the fourth quarter after the game was tied at half. On Friday, however, the Tigers beat up the Mustangs, running off a best-of-the-season 51-36 win.

“We hadn’t learned how to finish a game or play a full game,” coach Michelle Wilkie said. “Tonight was the first game, the first time, we played a complete game from start to finish. They didn’t let down, and that was the difference. They started it and finished it, and there was no hesitation in the middle.”

Everything seemed different Friday for a team that started the season struggling with the most basic fundamentals of the game. Indeed, Wilkie said a focus on dribbling, passing and shooting have filled nearly half of the squad’s practice time this season.

The payoff came Friday. Hayden junior Olivia Zehner led the team with 22 points, including 14 in the third quarter. The Tigers have had six games this season when they didn’t match Zehner’s output Friday.

Hayden led by eight at halftime, then stretched it as far as 18 points in the second half. Savannah Williams had 13, Kayla Dunckley seven, Meghan Jezo four, Emma Johnson three and Kara Cozzens two.

The improvement was evident in far more than the stats. It was there in a slick crossover dribble at the top of the key to ditch a defender. That simply wouldn’t have happened two months ago.

It was there in a powerful charge down the lane to the hoop and, more broadly, in a down-the-court mentality that simply hadn’t been formed in early January.

All those improvements are fueled by confidence, and the Hayden that played Jan. 11 at West Grand was a team devoid of it.

On Friday night, that was different, and in so many ways, so was the finished product, from Zehner at the top of the scorebook to reserves at the bottom.

“We pulled our heads out and decided, ‘I love this game. I want to play it,’” Zehner said. “We’re seeing the ball more. We’re passing it more, and we’re taking better shots.

“It was scary at first because half of our girls hadn’t ever played together, but now that we have, it’s really good.”

Hayden, 3-12, hopes to make it a 2-0 weekend and avenge another loss with a trip Saturday to play North Park, which won a December matchup, 40-37.

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

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