The Paonia High School girls' basketball team came back from the 2A state tournament last year with a trophy, just maybe not the one it really wanted.
"We finished as the consolation champs," Paonia head coach Scott Rienks said. "We beat Cedaredge in that game so we came home with a trophy. This year we're looking to improve upon that."
A veteran group of returning players combined with a flashy newcomer has the Eagles on everybody's radar, including the CHSAA preseason online poll, which ranked Paonia as the No. 2 team in 2A behind No. 1 Yuma.
"We still have athletes out there and for the most part we're going to be pretty good," Rienks said.
Pretty good may be understating it as the 2015 Eagles boast one of the deepest, tallest, most talented rosters the school has had in a while.
"We've got quite a few girls that are going to be good," Rienks said. "The seniors will provide leadership, and the juniors are going to be a huge part of this team, and we've got some sophomores that I think are going to be pretty good."
Four veteran seniors return to lead the Eagles. Ashley Van Vleet, who recently signed to run track at Idaho State University, is a force in the paint. Marisa Edmondson is a quick guard, Taylor Carsten can score the ball and defend, and Chey Christian is a standout on both sides of the floor.
Paonia's junior class has both quality and quantity. McKenna Hartigan, Emily Pieper, Brittany Kendall, Brianna Van Vleet and Courtney Van Vleet give Rienks depth throughout the lineup and enable him to employ his full-court pressure defense virtually the entire game. Every game.
Junior Sophia Anderson didn't take long to make her presence felt after moving to Paonia from Hoehne last year. Anderson has good height, is a strong defender, can shoot the 3 and can drive to the basket.
Anderson has what they call basketball savvy.
"We're adjusting as a team," Anderson said. "Everything is new this year. We've been working on it the past week because most of us just got out of volleyball. I think we're meshing pretty well. I like my team. We're fun to play with."
Three sophomores bolster the Eagles' lineup. Randi Rapke, Kassidy Rapke and McKenna Palmer will get time with the varsity and junior varsity squads this year.
With so much talent to choose from, finding playing time for all of the Eagles is going to be a challenge that Rienks described in one word, "Difficult."
Rienks expects tough league competition this year, led by a team Paonia is becoming very familiar with.
"Cedaredge of course will be good," Rienks said about the No. 4-ranked Bruins. "With the seniors they have they are going to be very tough."
Regardless of who they play, the Eagles know that the recipe for success at Paonia is always the same.
"We can go far as long as we keep working as a team and keep working our butts off," Anderson said.
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