The Eagles are going back to state.
Rebounding from a tough loss to Cedaredge in the District championship, Paonia rallied on the road last Saturday at Regionals to beat Ignacio in three sets, and defeated Ridgway in four sets to earn a fourth consecutive trip to the 2A state championship tournament this weekend in Denver.
"It was a great overall team effort," Paonia coach Krista Carsten said. "We had a solid offense, and we had to play some pretty tough defense against Ridgway."
The Eagles beat Ignacio handily in the first match, winning 25-21, 25-20, 25-21. That set them up for the Regional final against Ridgway (22-2) and the Demons' standout hitter Kaitlyn Rutherford.
"She is a solid hitter, but we put up a pretty big block on her," Carsten said. "She was able to swing around us at times, but she definitely had to change her game. I think the girls responded well to playing against that type of hitter, which is the type of player we will be seeing at state."
Paonia beat the Demons 25-15, 25-13, 27-29, 25-21. Senior Ashley Van Vleet led the way with 14 kills, 6 blocks and 14 digs in the win. Emily Pieper had a strong match with 13 kills, 14 digs and 16 assists. Morgan Hartigan nailed 13 kills, Sophie Anderson had 14 digs, and Taylor Carsten posted 28 assists for the Eagles.
The big win was just what the doctor ordered for the Eagles (20-4) after a staggering five-set loss to Cedaredge in Districts.
"We had opportunities to win the match in five, but Cedaredge just kept battling," Carsten said. "We realized that the match could easily have gone the other way, and we all felt good about how we played. Being able to come away as the Regional Champ was awesome. It was a great confidence builder for us."
Brackets for the state tournament were released late Monday morning.
"It is great to have the opportunity to be back at the State Tournament," Carsten said. "The team is happy to have the opportunity once again. We just want to have the chance to play one more day and one more game."
The 2A championship is wide open this year.
"Last year we had a lot of teams that were undefeated going into State," Carsten said. "This year all teams in our division have at least one loss. That just goes to show that anyone is beatable, and this group of girls just needs to believe that they can take it all."