Tigers basketball looking to unseat surging Soroco in rivalry | SteamboatToday.com

Tigers basketball looking to unseat surging Soroco in rivalry

Ben Ingersoll

— Throw out the hoopla, cut the chatter on social media and (try to) turn down the volume on what it means to be cross-county rivals.

Hayden High School girls basketball coach Michelle Wilkie knows her varsity Tigers are a little out-gunned against Soroco this Friday night. The Rams are off to a 5-1 start and are far and away the class of their Western Slope League division.

Wilkie also is starting to know what makes her team click midway through the 2014-15 season. Instead of using the small bit of dislike the Rams and Tigers have for one another as motivation, Wilkie is getting her team to look no further than those inside their own locker room for encouragement going forward.

"This weekend, we just need to be able to play the best ball we can play," Wilkie said. "We know what that looks like now. We need to do the things we can do, control what we can control."

Controlling Soroco’s high-octane offense and emerging defense will be a much, much stiffer challenge when the Rams and Tigers tip off at 5:30 p.m. Friday in Oak Creek.

When Soroco was last on the court 19 days ago, the Rams were breaking records and dismantling visiting South Park by 54 points.

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While just about everything is working for Soroco the way it has planned, Wilkie has been trying new tactics with her team. Each week, Hayden girls players are asked by their coach to write down practice, conditioning and game goals, toss them into a hat and re-select them at random. If, say, Kara Cozzens draws Darian Murphy’s name, Cozzens is responsible for seeing that Murphy attacks her goals head on.

For the most part, the Tigers have dedicated their work to themselves, not their opponent, cross-county rival or not.

"It doesn’t matter that we are cross-county rivals," Wilkie said. "We can’t worry about that. Basketball is a game. We have to go out and have fun, execute and play together."

Rams coach David Bruner is eyeing a fast start out of his group after its long layoff. Unlike the Tigers’ approach, Soroco is embracing the rivalry as a little extra motivation to take care of business and secure win No. 6.

"Coming out, we have to have a quick start and the intensity will be there with the cross-county rival," Bruner said.

Rams-Tigers boys set for Round 2

Long holiday layoffs can result in some lethargy and a touch of unconditioned legs.

For the Hayden High School boys, it meant finally getting a cluttered open to the season back together. During the majority of the Tigers’ first six games, they’ve been severely shorthanded. When one player would return from injury, another would go down with the flu. When that player recovered from the flu, Hayden’s top players would be busy taking their college ACT tests.

It’s been a rough 0-6 start for Hayden, but new coach Jody Harvey is eyeing a much better, more readily available team to finish things off, starting with rival Soroco on Friday night.

"We have everybody back finally," Harvey said. "I’m back to my full squad. That has made a tremendous difference having everyone back."

Soroco has had its lineup in tact for the most part this season, and it has paid dividends, especially when the Rams closed out their 2014 schedule on a four-game winning streak.

There has been some buzz in the Tigers’ opening practices after the holiday break about getting another chance at the tall task of unseating Soroco. The Rams blitzed Hayden on Dec. 12 by 34 points during a week where the Tigers saw a team-wide flu bug followed by its top two players Carlos Valdez and Jack Redmond missing a game while taking the ACT.

But even with things abysmal then, not much is suddenly changing schematically now for Harvey’s squad. It may not come Friday, but eventually they’ll snag their first win with the formula they’ve developed.

"We’ve been trying to refresh," Harvey said. "We’re not somebody who will put in 100 different things. We want to be good at what we do."

Tipoff for that game is set for 7 p.m.

To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll