Hayden junior Mark Doolin rumbles toward the hoop Saturday as the Tigers scrimmaged against Steamboat Springs. Doolin is Hayden's leading returning scorer, and one of two experienced low-post players upon which the team may rely this season.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Hayden junior Mark Doolin rumbles toward the hoop Saturday as the Tigers scrimmaged against Steamboat Springs. Doolin is Hayden's leading returning scorer, and one of two experienced low-post players upon which the team may rely this season.

Hayden boys basketball hopes to turn heads this year

Tigers eager to continue winning ways

— As two-time defending district champs, it may seem far fetched to think the Hayden High School boys basketball team is in a position to sneak up on anyone. But that’s exactly what the Tigers have in mind while preparing for the upcoming season without most of the stars of those championship teams.

Hayden will begin this season with three returning starters, will add a key transfer midway through and hopes to be in position for yet another playoff run in the spring.

“We’re hoping we can make the state tournament,” junior Mark Doolin said. “We have some good guys coming back, so hopefully we’ll surprise some people.”

Hayden made the state tournament two years ago and fell shy, losing in the regional championship, last year. If the team hopes to again make the season-ending tournament, it will need that trio of returners to grow into roles as leaders of the team. Hayden lost nine of its 12 varsity players and 60 percent of its points, but it returns a pair of experienced forwards in juniors Doolin and Jorge Valdez and a proven point guard in senior Hunter Johnston.

That’s a pretty place to start, coach Mike Luppes decided.

“We’re hoping to have a good year,” he said. “We’re making progress. We will be pretty strong offensively and are a work in progress defensively, but I’m pleased with where we’re at.”

Doolin and Valdez each averaged about 11 points per game a year ago while playing in the shadow of Hayden all-timer Graig Medvesk. They were, however, the team’s top two rebounders, with Valdez recording a prolific season under the glass with nearly 11 boards per game. He also had 38 blocks — 22 more than anyone else on the team.

Despite their accomplishments a year ago, both expect to shoulder more of the load this season, particularly scoring.

“I expect more to be put on me because I’m an upperclassman now,” said Doolin, who similarly stepped into a leadership role in football. “Our post play should be better. We lost a couple of our guards, but hopefully we can work it in the middle better than we did last year.”

The team can’t expect the kind of scoring it got from the guard positions last year — Medvesk averaged nearly 20 per game — but Johnston will be manning the point position full time for the second consecutive season, and Hayden’s hoping for a mid-season boost from another experienced guard.

Junior Paul Laliberte played last year for Moffat County but transferred to Hayden and will be eligible to suit up for the Tigers at the season’s halfway point.

“We hope people are overlooking us. We’re pretty excited about this team,” Luppes said. “The potential is there, but it will take a little while to get everything together.”

Hayden starts its season Dec. 8 with a tournament in Meeker.

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com

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