Hayden hoping for comeback | SteamboatToday.com

Hayden hoping for comeback

Gary E. Salazar

— Last year, Donald Rolando and his girls basketball team found themselves in an awkward position.

For the first time in three years, Hayden failed to qualify for the regional tournament.

This year, Rolando is optimistic his team has the talent and the experience to make it back despite the loss of four seniors.

The sixth-year coach said North Park is the class of the league, but after that the league is up for grabs.

“North Park is the team to beat,” Rolando said. “The rest of us are all rebuilding. I think it will be a dog fight for second place.”

Rolando likes his team’s chances despite the fact three of his top eight players are freshmen.

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Seniors Kristen Brown and Anna Lighthizer, and junior Adriana Svoboda will be joined in the starting lineup with freshmen Kayla Kostur and Alisha Henry.

Brown and Svoboda are returning starters. Lighthizer was a key player off the bench.

For her play last year, Svoboda was named to the first-team of the Western Slope League.

“Adriana played well last year,” Rolando said. “We are expecting big things from her this year.”

Rolando is also expecting solid years out of Brown and Lighthizer.

“Kristen needs to step up big this year,” he said. “She had a good summer.

“Anna will provide us with leadership and scoring.”

Kostur will be the Tigers’ starting center, and Henry will start at point guard. Henry replaces Natalie McDonald, who was a standout for three years.

“This past summer, we threw Alisha to the wolves,” Rolando said. “She struggled, but she is getting better.”

Rolando is expecting Henry to share time at the point guard position with junior Jaclyn Etzler, who is battling a back injury.

Joining Etzler in Rolando’s rotation off the bench are sophomore Millie Hellyer and freshman Whitney Bell.

“I have never started two freshmen,” Rolando said. “I have also never had three freshmen on varsity.”

The Tigers started practicing Nov. 12, and so far Rolando likes what he sees.

“The girls have been giving a lot of effort so far,” he said. “I really feel confident about this group.”

However, Rolando said a major weakness for his team is depth. With only eight players, he said it is critical for his players to play smart, fundamental basketball.

“Everybody will be getting a lot of minutes,” he said.

Rolando is also optimistic about the younger players developing at the junior varsity level, who are sophomore Shai Engle and freshmen Lauren Branstetter, Alicia Boyd, Dana Schlingman, Kim Medvesk, Danielle Laird and Kelsi Overstreet.

The Tigers will start their season at a tournament in Meeker. Hayden’s first game will be Thursday against Meeker High School.