Q&A with new Hayden hoops coach Lori Raper
HAYDEN — A program at a smaller school coupled with a commute might be a tough sell for some coaches, yet for Lori Raper, moving along to a new team made perfect sense by the numbers.
Raper was recently hired as the new head coach for Hayden High School girls basketball, replacing Michelle Wilkie. Beginning the job June 13, she was already hosting open gym sessions the next day and had her squad in game mode within the following weeks during the Western State Team Camp this Monday through Wednesday in Gunnison.
As an assistant coach for Steamboat Springs’ girls hoops program the past two years, she also recently taught physical education for North Routt Community Charter School and has lived in Routt County with her family for the past nine years, originally in Clark before moving to Steamboat.
With experience coaching in Texas and California, as well as competing for the Rams of Colorado State University, Raper discussed her plans for the Tigers in the offseason, the potential of Hayden’s younger girls and the challenges of facing off with her former team so soon.
Craig Press: When did you first hear about the opening? What interested you in being part of Hayden?
Raper: I heard about it while doing my exit interview with my boss at the charter school, and he and I are good basketball buddies, and he asked me what I thought about coaching in a smaller town. I hadn’t really thought about it, but we pulled it up and saw Hayden had a job opening.
Numbers are always a big thing, and that’s what’s nice here is there’s not a lot of competition for varsity sports. Nobody’s going to be a skier, there’s not 22 varsity sports, and I feel like the girls I have here are very dedicated. I’ve had four open gym times with them, and every time there’s more and more kiddos, and they range from seventh-grade to seniors. I definitely want to build the program from the ground up, and it sounds like the middle school coach has got good skills and some good skills. We even had an eighth-grader we took with us to Gunnison who’s a post player from Ohio. Very tall. She’s going to be back with middle school, but we’re going to make her great.
With a short amount of time to get introduced, how did players fare during the Gunnison event?
We saw a wide variety of teams, Strasburg, Telluride, Buena Vista, Steamboat. We beat Steamboat, so that made me really happy. It’s 16-minute running clocks until the last minute, unless you’re really getting walloped. All our games were really close, and we won two out of seven games. They came out a little flat, but they really gelled. We’re playing with four returners and a lot of younger girls, so the expectation was to watch them play and get the game experience. I was very proud, because they’ve got great fundamentals, good teamwork, and older kids really helped nurture those younger kids, they were kind to them when they were getting frustrated.
What kind of strengths have you seen in your returners?
Paige Barnes, who’s our senior guard, and Gracie Day, our other guard, they both have great ball-handling skills and were able to run the offense. I haven’t put any systems in yet, so I just let them do what they felt comfortable with in the past. They are great defenders, they are able to listen and work together when I draw up a play. Alex Camilletti is another good leader on the floor, and Hailee Smith is a good post player, and all the younger kids, the freshmen and the sophomores who played JV last year really took to the game well and played every single game.
Any additional plans for the summer?
We’ll be looking for some scrimmages, but the girls are going to be starting volleyball soon, and I want to support them in their other sport. I’m just getting to know the kids for now, maybe substitute teaching a little, there’s no PE position open right now. I definitely want to be part of the community here and seen in the community, not just someone who comes in to coach games. We’ll also be working on some fundraising to get girls some things we’ve been wanting for a while. I’ve been opening up the weight room for upper-body strength, working on jumping abilities and coordination.
I can’t tell you how appreciated and welcome I felt with the athletic director and his all of his staff, and within seven days we already had money collected, plans arranged, transportation and hotel. They’re so positive, and whatever I wasn’t sure about I’d ask, so that was great.
Was it difficult to say farewell to the Steamboat program?
I’ve been wanting to be a head coach for a while, but my family comes first, and when the Steamboat head coach job came open, George Ibarra and I are good friends and had coached recreation, and we both decided as a team, “OK, you take the head coach job, and when you’re ready to step down, I’ll take over.” Well, he’s not ready to step down, and we’ve both been nurturing those girls the past two years. The way we beat Steamboat, I have the best scouting report ever since I know them. They were very frustrated in their play, so Hayden girls could relax.
When one door closes, other ones open. It was hard to leave Steamboat because those kids were young and ready to take that next step up and be a very positive program, and I wish them all the best of luck. They were very standoffish at first at the camp, but even though we beat them, they still came around and said, “Coach, thank you.” They’ll always be my girls, but these girls now, I look forward to developing those relationships and have a great winning season and make to regionals. Let’s shoot for the moon.