Photo by Tamie Meck Paonia senior Ce’rra Carsten (left) was selected to play in the Colorado Coaches of Girls Sports’ all-state volleyball games this Sunday at Arvada West High School. Paonia head coach Krista Carsten will be an assistant coach in the game.Last week's trip to the state volleyball tournament wasn't the first for Paonia head coach Krista Carsten. In 2005 she went as an assistant coach at Hotchkiss and took her young daughter, Ce'rra, with her.
"But then, I've gone a lot as a coach, just to watch... and wish."
Ce'rra Carsten remembers being "little, little, little," watching "all those older girls play, and hoping one day that I'd be there."
After struggling through the district tournament, they got their wish when Paonia upset Vail Mountain and defeated Dolores to win the Region 3 tournament and qualify for state.
This is the first time in 22 years that Paonia has been represented at state volleyball.
Throughout the season, Paonia relied on six players, seniors Ce'rra Carsten and Abby Campbell, junior Carson Pipher, sophomore twins Morgan and Easton Hartigan, and freshman Taylor Carsten. Despite lacking height (at 5-foot-9, Campbell is the tallest), they're a powerful team, losing only one game this season and going undefeated to win the 2A Western Slope League title. Paonia played a strong team the past three years, but fizzled in playoffs.
"I knew this year was going to be different," said Ce Carsten, a four-year varsity member who plays at three positions. "This summer it just felt different."
Their playoff season was in question when they dropped three of five games at the district tournament. Because they won the Western Slope Conference title, they were protected to regionals.
"At districts I think we just over-thought," said Campbell. "At regionals, we came out strong and we were having fun." Campbell played her best game of the season in their regional win over Vail Mountain.
"We've had a lot more fun this year," said Campbell at last week's practice. "The more fun we have, the more we seem to win." Campbell and Carsten have made two trips to state basketball and were freshmen when the Lady Eagles won the 2A state title. The basketball team is almost expected to get to state, said Campbell, but state volleyball? "It's something special. No one expects it."
Seventh-seed Paonia opened state pool play on Friday with a three-set sweep over 11th-seed Sangre de Cristo (26-24, 25-20, 25-18).
The Thunderbirds were coming off of a three-set loss to No. 2 Swink. Paonia's offense recorded 44 kills and eight serving aces, while the defense had 75 digs and eight dig errors, and successfully received 54 serves with only five errors.
Pipher contributed eight kills and 10 digs toward the win. Taylor Carsten scored nine kills. Sophomore Easton Hartigan had six kills and two solo blocks. A back row player, she also recorded 11 digs and 18 serve receives. Morgan Hartigan added five kills and seven digs.
It was the first state tournament win for Paonia since 1983.
In round two of pool play, Paonia met its match against No. 2 Swink (24-3, 13-1 Santa Fe League).
Paonia didn't give in to pressure, but struggled with hits and didn't have a great passing game. "We had opportunities to win," said Coach Carsten. "But there were a few momentum-changers that made a difference." In 129 attacks, the team recorded 34 kills and 25 errors. Easton Hartigan was in on six of the team's 15 blocks. Paonia lost in three (25-20, 25-23, 25-21). Lutheran claimed its second consecutive state title.
Carsten is already looking to next season and at improving her bench, which consisted all season of sophomore blocker/hitter Claire Tracy and Taylor Plymale, who substitutes in the back row.
She suited up freshmen Ashley VanVleet and Jessie Holt and juniors Shylar Wilson and Susan Nieman for state. The two juniors were chosen for their commitment and dedication during the summer, said Carsten. She chose the two freshmen, "... to block against my varsity (in practice) because they are big, they jump and they put their arms over the net." While Carsten never pulled from her bench at state, they will benefit from the experience. She hopes the experience will inspire them to commit to next summer's camps and fundraising efforts.
Hard work paid off for Ce'rra Carsten, who was selected to play in the Colorado Coaches of Girls Sports' all-state volleyball games this Sunday at Arvada West High School, and Krista will be an assistant coach. Ce'rra will also play in the Colorado All-State games next June. She said that playing for her mom is great but it has its challenges. "We remind each other that I'm her player, not her daughter, and she's my coach, not my mom," said Ce'rra.
Most of the players stayed for the championship matches, and what they saw was encouraging. "We're close to where we need to be for next season," said Carsten.