Inexperienced Sailors optimistic as boys’ basketball season gets underway |

Inexperienced Sailors optimistic as boys’ basketball season gets underway

Steamboat Springs High School boys' basketball coach Michael Vandahl instructs players during practice Wednesday. Vandahl, a 2008 SSHS graduate, is in his first season leading the Sailors.
Austin Colbert

Steamboat boys basketball

Last season: 15-6

Top returning players: The Sailors return no starters and little experience. Senior guard Jon Rinck, the brother of first-year coach Michael Vandahl, is at the top of the list when it comes to extensive game action.

It will all come down to: Defense. Vandahl wants to build this team around defense, and defense is mostly about attitude and effort. If Steamboat can put forth that effort and buy into Vandahl's system, which, so far, they have, the Sailors will be able to hang with most teams. Finding offensive production on the other end will be what takes them over the top.

Soroco boys basketball

Last season: 13-9

Top returning players: All-league selections Warren Hayes and Eric Logan are two of four returning starters alongside fellow seniors Chance Beaty and Storm Veilleux.

It will all come down to: Desire. The talent and experience seem to be there for the Rams. How far they go will be up to how hungry the senior class is. Making a regional final is very realistic.

Hayden boys basketball

Last season: 3-16

Top returning players: With five seniors gone from last year and no seniors this year, everyone has a shot at earning a starting roster spot. Even first-year coach Gerard Geis hasn't figured it out yet.

It will all come down to: Optimism. The Tigers are young and likely won't win many games this season. But this youth will make them very experienced in a year or two, and if they keep their heads up, they could turn into something special down the line.

— Steamboat Springs High School boys’ basketball coach Michael Vandahl seems to understand ignorance is bliss. It’s not that he thinks of his players as ignorant, but it’s difficult for him to share their youthful optimism for the coming season.

His expectations are more in line with that of someone who has played enough games to understand the challenges that come with winning league titles.

However, he has no problem with letting the team dream big.

“The players, they get excited about that. I want them to have those dreams and goals to win a league title, but as a coach and as a team, we just need to get better every day,” Vandahl said. “We might take a few lumps early, but the goal is just to really improve every day and be playing our best basketball by the end of the season.”

The Sailors will open the season in Grand Junction at the Warrior Challenge, beginning with a 5 p.m. game Thursday against Grand Junction High School and former Sailor Robi Powers. SSHS will face Mitchell at 3:30 p.m. Friday and finish with Fruita Monument at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.

It will also be the first games for Vandahl, a 2008 SSHS graduate, as head coach of his alma mater. Vandahl guided the Sailors to 30 straight league wins at one point and was the Western Slope player of the year as a senior. He played collegiately at the University of Denver, University of Nebraska-Kearney and Western State Colorado University.

Vandahl inherits a team coming off a 15-6 season in which it just missed a spot in the state tournament.

“It’s just awesome to come back where I practiced and where I played,” Vandahl said. “There is so much I want to get in system wise, but you just don’t have enough time. I’m learning some new stuff every day.”

Vandahl said he wants to build the program on the same defensive principles as former coaches Kelly Meek, who is helping out as a volunteer assistant, and Luke DeWolfe, now the school’s athletic director. Offensively, Vandahl wants the team to share the ball and get good, open shots, while occasionally pushing the tempo when given the opportunity.

“I really like the new system we are running,” said senior point guard Jon Rinck, who is also Vandahl’s brother. “Everyone has seemed to buy in. We have a good group of guys here, and I think we are going to be really successful this year.”

Steamboat’s Achilles heel could be experience, as it brings back no returning starters, with only Rinck having much in the way of legitimate varsity experience. The 6-foot, 6-inch Rinck will join freshman Mac Riniker, junior Ethan Riniker, junior McKenyon King and senior Zach Holm as the team’s starters heading into the opening weekend.

“I definitely think we are getting there. We still have a little ways to go, but I think we are ready for this weekend,” senior guard John Zalesky said. “We definitely want to go out and win a league title and prove everyone wrong.”

Soroco has lofty goals after big season

It was a special first season for Shawn Hayes as head coach of the Soroco High School boys’ basketball team last year. Hayes, a longtime middle school coach and high school assistant in South Routt, led his alma mater to a 13-9 season, which he said was the Rams’ most wins in more than 30 years.

Now, with four returning starters back this winter, the Rams are ready to lower their horns and attack.

“It was kind of nice losing only two seniors last year, and we had a real strong junior class that saw a lot of varsity time last year,” Hayes said. “They got that taste of it, and they want more. As a program, we’re trying to build upon that.”

Making the regional finals is a key goal for Soroco, which returns two all-league players in seniors Warren Hayes and Eric Logan. Fellow seniors Chance Beaty and Storm Veilleux are also returning starters.

Soroco opens the season Friday at the Burro Classic in Fairplay, hosted by South Park High School. The Rams will play Platte Canyon at 8 p.m. that night, before playing South Park at 4 p.m. Saturday.

Young Tigers starting fresh

Craig resident Gerard Geis is a self-proclaimed “basketball junkie,” and when he had the opportunity to take over as coach of the Hayden High School boys’ basketball team, it was something of a dream come true.

“I’ve always had an affinity for the place. I’ve always wanted to coach basketball, and openings don’t come around very often in this Valley,” said Geis, 49, who has also lived in both Hayden and Steamboat and currently has a child attending school in Hayden. “The Hayden opening came, and it looks to be a pretty challenging role this year, but I’m certainly looking forward to it.”

Geis understands it will be an uphill battle for the Tigers, a team that went 3-16 last season, lost five seniors and has no seniors on this year’s roster.

But with the help of assistant Corey Hunter and former Hayden coach and superintendent Mike Luppes, now retired, at his side, Geis hopes he can turn the young team’s upbeat attitude into something positive.

“They came together really fast; faster than we could have even hoped for as a coaching staff,” Geis said. “They are attentive. They play hard. They are all chomping at the bit to get the first game in. They are a very good group of young men.”

Hayden has narrowed its core group to about 10 players but doesn’t plan to have a starting five figured out until closer to the first game. The Tigers don’t open the season until Dec. 10, when they compete in the Cowboy Shootout in Meeker.

To reach Austin Colbert, call 970-871-4204, email or follow him on Twitter @Austin_Colbert

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.