Hayden girls squad, coach eager for season | SteamboatToday.com

Hayden girls squad, coach eager for season

Caitlyn Mahanna drives toward the basket during practice earlier this month. Mahanna is one of five seniors returning to Hayden's girls basketball team this year. The squad opens its season Dec. 4 when it travels to a tournament in Meeker.

— The Hayden High School volleyball season ended more than a month ago, but senior Caitlyn Mahanna still winced when the topic came up.

“That was bad,” she said, recalling her team’s ouster via tiebreaker from the district tournament.

They may ask for a different ending, but the Tigers likely won’t grimace if their forthcoming basketball season plays out similar to the volleyball campaign.

Hayden struggled to disappointing finishes in both sports last year. The Tigers turned everything around this fall with a new coach and a 16-6 record on the volleyball court. Now they have high hopes for the same swing in basketball.

“It feels the same as it did in volleyball,” Mahanna said. “I definitely think it can be the same. We could be really good this year.”

First-year coach Greg Johnson fueled the volleyball team’s resurgence, and the basketball program has a new coach, too. Eric Hamilton has taken charge of the program, his first stint as a head coach.

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Like Johnson in the fall, Hamilton enters the winter with no shortage of enthusiasm.

“I’m thrilled with the girls we have,” he said. “They have been great. The cupboard is stocked.”

The arsenal Hamilton gushed about bears a striking similarity to the volleyball team’s roster.

Leading the way are seniors Holli Salazar and Kylee Sweetser; both earned all-Western Slope League honors in basketball a year ago. Salazar was named to the first team after averaging 14.3 points per game, while Sweetser grabbed an honorable mention spot.

A big part of the team’s early-season enthusiasm is the set of schemes Hamilton already has installed.

He originally drew up his fast-break offense and aggressive defenses with a high school boys team in mind. For the Hayden girls, he said he found no reason to change anything.

“We didn’t run nearly as much last year,” Mahanna said. “We tend to get layups more now, and that helps a lot.”

It won’t be apparent until late in the season whether the team can keep pace with the volleyball program’s transition.

The new basketball season starts Dec. 4 when the Tigers travel to Meeker for a weekend tournament. League play starts as soon as they get back with a Dec. 12 cross-county game against Soroco.

The Hayden girls said they already have suspected for a long time things might be different this winter.

“It seemed like we lost it toward the end last year, but now everyone is so excited,” senior Kylie Harris said. Hamilton has “already got an offense and defense installed – we did all that this summer. He’s really dedicated to the team, and I think we can be good.

“I wish I could have him longer than just this season.”