Photo by Tamie Meck Paonia guard Chelsy Reed, who averaged nine points per game her junior season, is one of five returning seniors for the Lady Eagles. This year’s seniors were freshmen when Paonia claimed the state 2A title. Paonia placed fourth last season. With a tougher schedule this season and confidence at an all-time high, Paonia has a shot at reclaiming the state title.As soon as the Lady Eagles were eliminated from last year's 2A state tournament after placing fourth, head coach Scott Rienks knew they needed to play a tougher schedule this season. Paonia was 22-1 going into the tournament, and most of its wins were by 30 or more points.
In response, he signed them up to play in the 2012 Tiger Tip-off tournament at Holy Family in Denver. They open the tournament this Thursday against 4A Northridge. Paonia is the only 2A team in a mostly 3A, 8-team bracket. Of the eight teams competing, six are returning state qualifiers.
"I know we have the potential to have five losses by break," said Rienks, "but it gives us a chance to get better as a team."
Rienks is now in his fifth season as head coach at Paonia and has a 105-16 record. Last season, Paonia entered the 2A state tournament with one loss, to 4A Delta, and district and regional trophies in its crowded trophy case. This year's five returning seniors were freshmen in 2010, when Paonia claimed the state title. They'd like the opportunity to re-claim their title, even if it means tough losses along the way.
Paonia scrimmaged Montrose, Olathe and Glenwood Springs, and opened its schedule at home on Dec. 4, against Olathe. Its scheduled season-opener against Rifle was postponed. The next home game will be on Jan. 5, against Hotchkiss, which moved down to Class 2A this year.
The Lady Eagles have no games scheduled for the weekend of Dec. 14-15, and will compete in the Bank of the West tournament on Dec. 21-22. Last December Paonia lost in the final seconds to Delta in the tournament championship game. That's another title it would like to reclaim.
Paonia continues to build a strong hoops program. A total of 32 players signed on to this year's team. Mandy Bushta, Annavah Kropp, Abby Campbell, Tyler Rapke and Chelsy Reed all return for their fourth season. Campbell, who hit more than 50 percent of her field goal attempts and led the team in blocks, offensive and defensive rebounds her junior year, is playing with more confidence than ever, said Rienks. Reed, an all-state player last season, led the team in scoring and steals.
Carson Pipher, an all-conference, first- team player her sophomore year, is one of four returning juniors and will continue to be a threat from the three-point line. Guard Braiden Clement, point guard Jazmine Gomez and 5-foot-8 forward Taylor Polson also return to the court, as do sophomores Morgan Hartigan, Taylor Plymale and Easton Hartigan.
Tonya Pipher returns for her third year as assistant and junior varsity coach. Pipher coached last year's JV team to a 15-2 season, including one loss to Delta in the Bank of the West JV tournament.
Max Schuman, a Littleton native who was a graduate assistant coach for the Northern State University Wolves in South Dakota, will coach the C team. John Blair and Allen Golden will also step in as assistant coach. In his 20 years of coaching, Rienks said he has "never had a coaching staff like this."
Overall, said Rienks, the team is playing with a whole new level of confidence. "We're pretty excited about where we are right now."