Back in Black (and orange): Luppes returns to coach Hayden boys | SteamboatToday.com

Back in Black (and orange): Luppes returns to coach Hayden boys

Hayden coach Mike Luppes coaches his team in 2014. He retired after that season, but is returning this winter to coach the Tigers.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — There are still days Mike Luppes misses owning a fishing resort in Minnesota.

That's what helped draw him away from his position as head coach of the Hayden High School boys basketball team in 2013. He and his wife still planned to spend their winters in Routt County, but he simply couldn't dedicate the time in the summer to put in the work he knew the Tigers' basketball program needed.

But there were times owning a fishing resort in Minnesota that he missed being a basketball coach.

"I really enjoy coaching," he said Thursday. "I enjoy the kids and the games and the competitions… I missed it."

The resort was sold last year, a little earlier than expected, Luppes said, but for an offer that couldn't be refused. So, he's excited to be back at the helm coaching Hayden basketball, and as much as he's enjoying retirement, he's eager to help build the program back up.

"I didn’t feel like there was the opportunity to give the program the time it needed, but I'm in a situation now where I can do that," he said. "I can enjoy all the aspects of coaching."

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Luppes' first stint as head coach in Hayden lasted just six seasons, but included some of the best in school history.

The team made the state tournament in 2010 and was a regular fixture in the regional tournament throughout that span.

The program fell on hard times late in his tenure, however. The 2014 team, Luppes' last, finished with just five healthy players.

The team won just three games the following season, 2014-15, with a new coach, and then went winless the last two seasons with another new staff.

Luppes returns to a team on a 35-game losing streak, though he doesn't expect it to extend much further.

Hayden's season starts Dec. 8 with a trip to a tournament in Encampment, Wyoming. The Tigers will then travel for another tournament in Utah.

"It will be a huge lift," Luppes said, imagining that streak-snapping victory. "We're confident we'll get one, and we're hoping to get it pretty quick. That'll be a huge boost for the kids, but you know, the goals we have in mind for this season definitely include getting more than that first win.

"By the end of the season, we can be a pretty good team."

The one advantage to the program's recent dearth of upperclassmen is it now returns a group of very experienced players, athletes who started earning varsity minutes as freshman as a necessity.

Garrett St. Clair, Alan Aguirre and Ethan Kern are seniors who've been soaking up those minutes, as have juniors like Patrick Hunter, Mason Brewer and Daylon Fentress.

"We're expecting some good things," Luppes said.

The program is in a different state than he left it. That last team, in 2014, struggled simply to finish a game with its five players. This year, the Tigers have 33 boys out for basketball. That offers depth that even some of Luppes' best teams couldn't match.

"I think we can go nine or 10 deep and not have a huge dropoff," he said.

He said that's a good problem to have, and, after three seasons away from the program, it's one he's awfully happy to have to worry about.

It's good to be back.

"We've got a really good group of kids, hard-working kids," he said. "It's going to take some time, but we're pretty optimistic we can be a pretty good basketball team."

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9.

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