Vail Christian ready for districts |

Vail Christian ready for districts

Special to the Daily/Howard GardnerVail Christian's Elliot Ristow races to guard the perimeter against Hayden earlier this month. Vail Christian and Hayden meet for the third time this year Saturday likely with a berth in rwegionals on the line.

EDWARDS, Colorado ” When the Vail Christian boys basketball team takes the floor for Saturday’s district quarterfinal, the Saints will not look across the way and see the 1992 Dream Team of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley and David Robinson.

Vail Christian will be at Hayden Saturday at 2:30 p.m., facing a good, but what the Saints feel is a beatable team, with a berth in regionals likely on the line.

The Saints lost in overtime at Hayden in December. They lost at home earlier this month to the same Tigers, 43-30, without the services of injured point guard Will Parker (broken nose).

“I’m really excited,” Parker said. “I hate sitting on the bench. It’s no fun. I’m excited to get payback.”

Yes, the Tigers are above .500 and the Saints 8-10. Hayden is favored as the third seed against the No. 6 Saints, but the feeling in Edwards is that the third time is a charm.

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“If everyone has an OK night, that gets the job done,” senior shooting guard A.J. Burgess said. “Everyone has to be on the same page.”

And that is the $64,000 question for Vail Christian. On paper, the Saints should be able to play with Hayden, yet as been the case all season, it’s a matter of putting it all together at one time.

“We’ve got all the pieces,” Vail Christian coach Sheldon Kuhns said. “Very rarely, we’ve put it together and everyone’s played well. We’ve done it at times. … Hopefully, it’s this weekend. The guys are really motivated to do it.”

If the Saints can put it all together and defeat Hayden, they will likely be going where no Saints basketball team has gone before. Meeker (17-1 overall) went undefeated in the 2A Slope, leaving the Cowboys “protected,” meaning that if for some reason, they lose to West Grand, which is 0-for-the-season, they would still take one of the district’s four regional berths.

If Meeker wins, a very likely possibility, all teams which qualify for the district semifinals are also guaranteed a sport in regionals, and that would be a first for Vail Christian.

“No game in the playoffs on the road is easy,” Kuhns said. “We’re 0-2 against this team. But it’s a team we feel we match up well against. We don’t need to play an amazing game. We just have to put on a good solid performance and put ourselves in a position to win.”

“That would be a dream come true,” Parker said. “We’ve worked really hard. We have quite the opportunity this Saturday to show what we’ve got.”

Lady Saints at Paonia

To review, Saints faithful. In boys basketball, you want the No. 1 seed at districts to beat the No. 8 team.

But it’s quite the opposite at the girls district tournament. The No. 8 Saints (6-12) are at Paonia (17-1) at 1 p.m. on Saturday.

That aforementioned piece on paper which says the Vail Christian-Hayden game is likely to be a tight one, doubtless says that the Lady Saints don’t have a chance against the Eagles.

That’s fine by the Saints.

“I think you’re in an ideal situation. We have nothing to lose,” Saints coach Doug Bruce said. “No one thinks we’re going to go there and win the game. The only people who might believe that are (our) players and the coaches. I think there’s motivation there and I think there’s a relief of pressure. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

Paonia defeated Vail Christian, 49-27, in January. The Eagles’ full-court press smothered the Saints in that game. This has been an issue for Vail Christian all season, but the Saints have cranked up their DVDs to find ways to improve moving the ball up the court.

There’s also the mental factor for Vail Christian.

“I think the most important thing is not to beat ourselves because we’re just as good as Hayden or Paonia,” senior Maty Peckham said. “But we always get afraid that they’re so good that we are supposed to automatically lose to them. I think we feel more pressure that we have to play perfect just to beat them.”

Bruce isn’t looking for his team to play a perfect game. He would just like to see his Saints put together their best game of the season.

“The only thing we’ve concentrated on at this point is playing our best game, and we don’t feel like we’ve played our best game yet,” the coach said. “If we play our best game on Saturday, whatever the results are, we can live with that.”

Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or

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