Hayden senior trio plays for the love of the game
Hayden — Between the 2009-10 and 2012-13 seasons, Hayden High School boys basketball enjoyed a run unlike any other in Routt County boys hoops.
The Tigers strung together 74 wins during the four-year stretch, including a nearly untouchable 42-3 league record. There were district tournament victories, league championship banners and even a few games in the state playoffs.
For a few years in that stretch, Hayden’s current three seniors had a hand in some of those wins and league titles, and they surely played witness to the success before they wore Tigers varsity jerseys.
There’s no doubt seniors Isaac Bridges, Greg Frentress and Dan Engle know what winning feels like.
But for the first time in their varsity basketball careers, this season has taught them how to weather the other side of the fence.
Hayden, at 3-14 and 2-7 in league play, isn’t going to win a league title. It will need a surprise string of wins to taste district gold again, which makes the prospect of playing in the state tournament as unlikely as the school has seen in quite some time.
Tigers longtime coach Mike Luppes has seen teams thrive under the thrill of victory and crumble from the pressure of defeat.
This group isn’t in that latter category, he said.
“I’m as proud of these kids as about any group I’ve ever coached,” Luppes said. “There has been any number of times they could have hung it up or said, ‘Oh, let’s just go out and screw around.’ They’ve stayed tough with a good attitude.”
Bridges, Frentress and Engle don’t really know how to explain it.
Although their coach thinks he has the answer.
“They love playing the game,” Luppes said. “That’s what makes coaching them so pleasurable. Over the last years coaching, we’ve had a lot of kids who just didn’t enjoy playing the game. It’s not me trying to drag them into the gym. It’s them trying to get the gym open more often than it is.”
The three have been hitting the hardwood and local playground basketball courts since they were in third grade.
They know one another like family. As Engle puts it, he can dish off a pass without even looking, knowing Bridges or Frentress will be there on the receiving end.
They mesh together, said Engle, who for the first third of the season was the only senior Luppes had healthy enough to play.
Frentress and Bridges were forced to watch from the bench with injuries for all four of the December losses, which came at an average margin of 33 points per game. They were frustrated, and so too was Engle, who time and time again had to create on offense, even when shots weren’t there.
“It was frustrating,” Engle said. “If I wanted to snap a pass off, one of the freshmen probably couldn’t handle it. I felt like I had all the pressure in the world on my shoulders.”
Eventually, Bridges and Frentress did return, but the losses continued to pile up while the trio tried to find its groove as the rest of the league was operating at midseason form.
Hayden basketball a month ago is a far cry from where it stands today, though, with the final games of the season around the corner and the district tournament coming up.
The seniors and their coach feel like they can shake things up and maybe pull an upset or two in their final run together on the court.
Frentress said they will remember their win-loss record. How couldn’t they, after all the championship banners Hayden has hung in recent memory?
It’s just something they have to live with, he said. But the love of the game is what keeps them together.
“It’s always fun winning and going to regionals and having a competitive team,” Frentress said. “But it’s still basketball and we have fun doing it.”
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