Battle for starting spots fosters competitive nature for Moffat County girls hoops
It’s nothing new for the Moffat County girls basketball program to be off and running in the first few days of practice, and the Bulldogs are preparing for big things.
Players have been pounding the hardwood this week as the winter sports season gets underway.
Girls basketball coach Eric Hamilton has seen athletes waste no time getting in gear to prove their mettle for the varsity roster. Many of the starters for last year‘s team graduated, so the squad will be changing slightly this year.
“They’re really, really fighting for jobs right now — I love it,” Hamilton said. “They’re truly competing for spots. They’ve all grown a lot.”
The expected transition in Bulldog players is matched by a larger adjustment for the team. After nearly a decade in Class 3A, Moffat County basketball is back at the 4A level, as schools were reclassified in a system that now ranges from 1A to 6A.
“We’re one of the smallest 4A schools,” Hamilton said.
The new 4A Western Slope League won’t be too different from previous years, though. In addition to staying paired with Basalt, Coal Ridge, Delta and Grand Valley, MoCo will be back among familiar teams Steamboat Springs, Rifle and Summit. The big change is going back to a format that involves playing each league opponent twice.
“I like the league this way. Travel is way easier with it being home and away like that,” Hamilton said. “That way, you don’t just have one game versus the top team and have to beat them at their house.”
In addition to a great deal of juniors and sophomores who have varsity experience, the Dogs are welcoming back four upperclassmen.
As one of the top performers returning this winter, senior Lizzy LeWarne is looking to stay on track with the standard she set last season. She led the team and the league in rebounds with 220 across 23 games and posted three double-doubles in the process.
The team will also have two seniors who missed most of last season. Cayden King and Sadie Smilanich each suffered ACL injuries forcing them to sit out the 2021-22 season.
“I’m just kind of easing into it and getting fitted for a brace and hopefully be ready for the first game,” Smilanich said.
The plus side of the injuries — King hurt her left knee, Smilanich her right — was having a companion in the healing process.
“It was actually really nice to have someone who got hurt the same way, so we could rehab together,“ King said. ”It’s been a long road, but I’m glad to be able to play with these girls again.”
Senior Jadence Vasquez is looking forward to making this season a memorable one with her fellow upperclassmen, now that they can all suit up again as one.
“We’re really excited to play as a group this year,“ she said. ”We’ve been playing together on and off since fifth grade.”
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