Deep bonds will benefit team spirit as Moffat County girls basketball starts season

Andy Bockelman
For the Craig Press
Moffat County girls basketball seniors, from left, Rylie Felten, Emma Jones, Reese Weber, Jacie Evenson and Halle Hamilton, pose for a photo ahead of their seniors season.
Andy Bockelman / For the Craig Press

By the end of their senior year, Moffat County High School athletes have competed alongside their teammates for four years, and for those who are taking their sport especially seriously, they’ve been with the same crew for even longer.

That level of familiarity is part of what Bulldog girls basketball players and coaches expect will be a huge driver for this season.

The MCHS girls hoops program is looking to make it a banner year, led by five seniors who have stayed exceptionally close on and off the court for nearly their whole lives.

Upperclassmen Jacie Evenson, Rylie Felten, Halle Hamilton, Emma Jones, and Reese Weber have been teammates throughout their time at 900 Finley Lane, but they’ve had that bond well before they were in high school.

“All of us coming together to be leaders is nice, since we’ve played together since we were young,” Weber said.

The five of them, among others in the Class of 2022, had a flawless run while at Craig Middle School, going completely undefeated throughout seventh and eighth grade.

“Lots of black eyes and bloody noses,” Evenson said of their competitive spirit in those days.

The same group also competed at regional and state events in those days through AAU, and while others who were on that team have either moved away or focused on other sports, the five are still going strong for the Bulldogs.

“Our chemistry is extremely strong right now, and it’s crazy to think that we’re seniors, since we’ve been playing together since sixth grade. We flow so well together,” Hamilton said.

In the past three years, the girls have each had varying levels of varsity experience, though each of them are coming to play this winter.

“In the past, I’ve mostly played JV, but at practice it’s fun since it’s more fast-paced,” Jones said. “In track, it’s just Halle and I, but with this it’s the majority of my friends, so it’s great to get to play together and push each other. It’s crazy that it’s our senior year.”

All five are feeling confident about the months to come.

“It should be a good, strong season. We’re playing some pretty tough teams, but we’ve got a lot of talent,” Felten said. “I’ve been working on my dribbling and shooting so I can drive more from the inside.”

Weber noted she’s been perfecting her outside shooting.

“Also I’ve been working on handling pressure from other players,” Weber said. “We might not have as much height, but we’ve got so much speed. Cayden King is one of those girls who’s just so diverse in everything.”

Besides the seniors, a bundle of returning varsity players will bring plenty of skill, in a group that includes juniors King, Lizzy LeWarne, and Sadie Smilanich.

Halle Hamilton, King, and Felten are the top three returning scorers from last season, and Evenson, Hamilton and LeWarne bring back plenty of 3-point capability.

Hamilton was tied with then-senior Emaleigh Papierski in steals last season — followed by King and Evenson — while LeWarne, Felten, and King are the most productive rebounders back this year.

“It’s a very coachable group, really intense, and they hate losing,” said head coach Eric Hamilton.

He added that early practices have shown him it will be tough to have a definitive varsity list.

“It’s a good battle, very competitive. A lot of them are right there, so it’s been super competitive practices,” Hamilton said. “We haven’t have a whole lot of practices, but we’re doing a lot of fundamental work in these first two weeks. At the same time, we want to get our offense going and work on a lot of defensive sets. We’re gonna throw a lot at them, which we already did at our open gyms. We had a lot of games during the summer, so we’re way ahead.”

This season will be stretched out more than last, during which the Lady Dogs went 10-4 overall, 5-1 in the 3A Western Slope League. The only conference team MoCo girls fell to was Delta, with whom they were also matched in the playoffs, when the Panthers ran away with it again.

“We’ve got to work on staying unbeaten. I think our league will be really good. Delta, Coal Ridge, Grand Valley, all of them. I don’t see us having a lot of easy games,” Eric Hamilton said.

While early-season tournaments were few last year thanks to COVID-19, that format will be key this season, the coach said, noting that the Glenwood Springs Demon Invite will provide the kind of test he wants against larger schools.

“We want to be very competitive at Glenwood and get through that bracket. We start with Cañon City,” Hamilton said.

The Bulldogs went to the state semifinals the year before the current seniors started high school, and though they’ve regularly been in the postseason the last three years, senior athletes have not gone deep in the brackets.

“Going past the Sweet 16 would be really nice. Obviously the goal is to get a state championship, but I really think we can work to not let our competition outdo us in the playoffs,” Halle Hamilton said. “I don’t want to have any regrets at the end of the season. I want to leave it all on the court and have a good feeling when I leave my basketball career.”

Evenson agreed that she wants this year to be the best yet, especially since it’s her final opportunity to be in a sport with her fellow seniors.

“Since this is my last season with all of them and I don’t run track or anything like that, I want to do some great things with them,” Evenson said.

Likewise, the Bulldog coach wants to have a memorable season with daughter Halle, as well as players he’s helped guide well before high school.

“This being her senior year and having coached her for so long, I really want to play all the way,” Eric Hamilton said. “We want to get to that Great 8, and this is the team to do it.”

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