After a disappointing first-round regional loss in 2011, the defending state champion Lady Eagles promised to win in 2012 and return to the state tournament. They kept that promise by sweeping last weekend's 2A Region 5 tournament and earning a trip to state.
Photo by Tamie Meck
With convincing wins over Custer County and Denver Christian at the 2A Region 5 Tournament, the Lady Eagles qualified for the state tournament beginning Thursday at the University of Colorado - Pueblo. In the picture is: back row, (l-r) Alexandria Farnsworth, Mandy Bushta, Braiden Clement, Chelsy Reed, Abby Campbell, Ce’rra Carsten, and Taylor Plymale. The front row consists of Jazmine Gomez, Tyler Rapke, Annavah Kropp, Jessica Altman, and Carson Pipher.
Paonia enters the state tournament with a 22-1 record and seeded first. They will face eighth-seeded Del Norte (17-5) at 8:45 a.m. tomorrow at Colorado State University - Pueblo's Massari Arena. The Tigers upset second-seeded Meeker, 63-43, in the first round of Region 3 playoffs, then topped first-seeded Ridgway, 62-47 Saturday to advance to the Great Eight.
If there's one strength Paonia has going into state, it's experience.
Photo by Tamie Meck
Annavah Kropp defends against Custer County lead scorer Sierr Geroux in the first round of Class 2A regional playoffs. Paonia defeated the Bobcats, 64-46, to advance to Saturday’s championship game against Denver Christian.
Under head coach Scott Rienks, Paonia has made it to the Great Eight four of the last five years. They were 0-2 at the tournament in 2008, and placed second in 2009. In 2010, the Lady Eagles won the state title — the first basketball title in the school's history. Chelsy Reed, Jessica Altman, Ce'rra Carsten, Annavah Kropp, Abby Campbell and Kayla Wingfield were on that team. Wingfield suffered a season-ending knee injury in January and remains active with the team.
Under Rienks, the Lady Eagles have dominated the Western Slope League and have lost only two league games in five seasons. This season, their sole loss came early in the season to 4A Delta. On Friday, the Eagles topped Custer County, 64-46, then defeated Denver Christian 58-36 on Saturday.
"We communicated really, really well tonight," said Reed after the 58-36 win over Denver Christian. "I think that helped us so much. We were so aware of where everyone was and we talked to each other so well."
If Paonia struggled, it was in staying focused after taking strong leads in both games. Paonia held Denver Christian scoreless for most of the second period to lead 39-11 going into the half.
"It's hard to stay focused when you get ahead," said Pipher, who, along with Altman, led the Eagles with 13 points against the Crusaders.
"When you're leading by 20 points at halftime, it's easy to let down," said Rienks. But when the scores are tight, as they should be at state, "The girls will just do what they need to do."
Photo by Tamie Meck
Paonia senior post Alexandria Farnsworth attempts a field goal against Denver Christian in the 2A Region 5 Tournament. The Lady Eagles defeated Custer County and Denver Christian to advance to state at CSU-Pueblo beginning Thursday.
If anything is lacking on this team, it's height — a strength both Custer County and Denver Christian possessed. But that didn't slow Paonia down. "Our speed makes up for our height," said Pipher, who scored 21 points for the tournament and was 11-16 from the line. "We are more coordinated, we can outrun people, and some of us can jump. We just need to find our position and box out."
The 8-team Black Forest League will send two teams — second-seeded Evangelical Christian (22-2) and fifth-seeded Vanguard (18-4). They will face No. 7 Rye (18-6) and No. 4 Lutheran (17-6), respectively, in Thursday's Great Eight round, and No. 3 Akron (22-1) will face Sargent (16-7). Consolation rounds begin Friday and the championship games will be held Saturday night. Tournament brackets and game times may be viewed online at www.chsaa.org.
In addition to gathering scouting reports and reviewing footage of their upcoming opponents, Rienks said the team "will rest legs" in anticipation of a possible three games at state.
"I feel good about the way we played," said Rienks following the win over Denver Christian. "If we can continue to play like we did our first half throughout the rest of this tournament, I think we've got a good shot."