Tons of Tigers could help Hayden girls hoops | SteamboatToday.com

Tons of Tigers could help Hayden girls hoops

— It's been an up-and-down ride for the Hayden High School girls basketball in the three full years Michelle Wilkie has coached the squad.

The team was very good her first year, 14-7, and it's been a rebuilding process since.

As the squad kicks off its 2014-15 campaign Thursday, Wilkie said the program is as strong as its been since she arrived to coach it, however, and her evidence is in just how many seats on the bus it takes to haul the squad.

Her first season, the dozen athletes could have moved via a large van. Now, it takes a bus.

"We have 23 kids out, the most I've had in my four years," Wilkie said.

Hayden opens its season Thursday by playing in the Meeker Cowboy Shootout. There will be five other teams there, including Soroco, and the Tigers open at 7:30 p.m. against the defending league champs, Meeker, which finished third in the state a year ago.

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Wilkie wasn't sure how that would go. The Cowboys graduated a ton of talent from last year's squad but return plenty. But Wilkie is excited to see the fruits of two long seasons pay off.

Two years of a lopsided win-loss total at least imparted plenty of experience on the Tigers, and that could start to work in the team's favor. It will have nine seniors, including three who started last season.

Last year, underclassmen accounted for all but one of the team's top 10 scorers, and the leading scorer, senior Taylor Hagar, returns.

As happy as it makes Wilkie to return all that experience, she said she's happy with some new additions, as well. One senior and two other players went out for basketball for the very first time this season.

Sure, there's plenty of catching up to do as their teammates have logged many more hours of court time, but that's not the point.

"I want the girls to have fun, to love this and to have a passion for it so when they get out of school, they still love it and still want to be a part of basketball in some way," Wilkie said. "My first year here we weren't sure we could have a junior varsity squad, so I'm really proud of the numbers we have now. We've put it out there that this is a game that anyone can play, but that you need to be competitive with it.

“These girls want to be a part of something special."

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