Meck Annavah Kropp (33) attempts to block Lutheran Parker’s Lexi Radic in the semifinal game of the State 2A Basketball Tournament at the Pueblo Events Center last Friday. Kropp scored 16 tournament points, including three from beyond the arc.
With an 18-game winning streak and a 21-1 record going into the state 2A tournament, they may have been seeded first, but the Paonia Lady Eagles knew that they would meet their match at the state level. Second-seeded Evangelical Christian (ECA) boasted a 22-2 record, No. 3 Akron was 22-1, and fourth seed Lutheran Parker was 17-5.
"The top four teams could be the No. 1 seed," said head coach Scott Rienks after losing Friday in the semifinals to Lutheran. "We just happen to have the longest winning streak," and were strapped with the top seeding, despite playing in one of the weakest leagues in the state. "We're not always in tough games," said Rienks. "Nobody in our league advanced out here besides us."
"Oh yes, definitely we knew it was going to be tough," said senior starting guard Jessica Altman after the Eagles' 64-51 loss to Evangelical Christian Academy on Saturday to place fourth. "I mean, we knew it wouldn't be a walk in the park."
Altman, a 4-foot-11 point guard who averaged 8.4 points per game and in two games scored a season-high 17 points, was held to just nine points for the tournament held at the Pueblo Events Center.
Photo by Tamie Meck
Paonia senior guard Jessica Altman is well covered by Evangelical Christian Academy’s senior Heidi Mann as she looks to pass to an open Abby Campbell in last Saturday’s consolation round of the 2A State Basketball Tournament. Paonia lost to ECA to place fourth overall. A three-year varsity player, Altman has been the starting point guard since her junior year. Altman has contributed to the Lady Eagles’ 66-8 record and a state championship in 2010.
Paonia edged out eighth-seed Del Norte, 49-39, in Thursday's quarterfinals game. Abby Campbell scored her seven game points, including Paonia's only trey of the game, in the first half to boost Paonia to a 22-14 half-time lead.
Paonia managed only six points in the third, while Tiger Lindsay Mosby, who scored a game-high 16 points, sank three goals to bring Del Norte to within two at the buzzer. Del Norte made 17 second-half fouls, allowing Ce'rra Carsten to score eight from the free throw line down the stretch for the win. Carsten ended the game with 18 points.
Carson Pipher scored eight against the Tigers, and Chelsy Reed led the defense with six steals.
Paonia's first loss came in Friday's semifinals against Lutheran Parker. They knew coming in that the Lions pressed really well and they shot really well, said Rienks. Lutheran came out of one of the toughest leagues in the state. Their season included games against top 3A teams including Holy Family, Machebeuf, and this year's state champions, Faith Christian. Unlike the teams that Paonia faced all season, Lutheran was prepared for Paonia's fast pace and deep bench, and used their height advantage to out-rebound the Eagles and stress their defense.
Rienks said his team made several attempts to neutralize the Lutheran offense, which outscored Paonia 28-13 in the first period. Paonia adjusted from zone to a man-to-man and held them to two field goals in the second, "But in doing so, we let them have the outside shot," said Rienks. "I feel like that's where they beat us. They didn't beat us by effort... But they could sink the ball."
Lutheran opened with seven unanswered points. Two goals by Reed and another by Campbell pulled them to within three, but Lutheran lead scorer Jennifer Vigil answered with a trey. Campbell drew a shooting foul and was 2-2 from the line, leaving Paonia trailing 14-8; they trailed 18-8 at the end of one.
Photo by Tamie Meck
The Lady Eagles’ Chelsy Reed (15) guards ECA’s Heidi Mann in the consolation of the 2A State Basketball Tournament last Saturday, March 10. “It seemed like the whole offense ran through her,” said Reed, who was charged with guarding Mann.
A three by Annavah Kropp pulled Paonia to within five late in the second period, and Carsten hit two free throws to bring them to within three with less than a minute remaining. They trailed 28-23 at the half.
Campbell opened the second half with a lay up to bring Paonia to within two, but Lutheran spread their offense out to outscore Paonia 15-12 in the third. Lutheran held Paonia to just two field goals in the final period.
A 47-40 loss to Akron pushed the ECA Eagles into the battle for third place against Paonia. ECA also has height and speed, and two players who average more than 14 points per game. One of them is senior Heidi Mann. "It seemed like the whole offense ran through her," said Reed, who was charged with guarding Mann. "She's really, really good."
Four points by Reed and a three by Kropp gave the Eagles an 11-5 advantage at the end of the first.
While the defense held her to just one field goal late in the fourth, Mann and Abby Dorman, who led ECA with 21 points, combined to score 24 of 32 from the free throw line.
Despite being down by eight or more points throughout most of the second half, Paonia kept after ECA. Carson Pipher made 18 of her tournament 31 points, scoring nine in the third period to keep Paonia within reach of a win. She was 8-11 from the line. Reed scored 10 and was 4-4 from the line in the second half.
Altman and Kropp fouled out and Paonia trailed by 14 with less than 3 minutes remaining, but the Eagles gave it their all down the stretch. "We had the chances to throw in the towel because it seemed like everything went against us," said Rienks. But every player gave it her all right down to the buzzer. "If you can't win, what else could you ask for? It's an amazing group of girls."
Akron defeated Lutheran for the state title. Rienks said he was disappointed at his team's losses, but also very proud of his team. "It's still a huge accomplishment to be in the top four in this tournament. Not one kid that stepped on that court didn't give me 100 percent. As a coach, losing is a lot easier to handle when you know your kids gave you the effort that they did tonight."
They never gave up, added Rienks, even when they knew down the stretch that they couldn't win.
"I told them that'll take them a long way in life, and not just in sports."
Paonia was one of only five Western Slope teams to advance to the state finals. In girls competition, the fifth-seeded Olathe Pirates placed fifth in 3A after a 50-47 loss to Machebeuf, while 1A Norwood lost 28-23 to Pawnee to place second.
The Norwood and Plateau Valley boys teams lost in the Great Eight round and played against each other in Saturday's consolation game, with Plateau Valley winning, 50-47, to place fifth.
Despite not bringing home a trophy, the team (Lady Eagles) was upbeat on Saturday. "It feels good, it's so much better than last year," said Reed. "We didn't even make it out of regionals, so I think we're all really happy, even though we didn't win today or yesterday... We're still really happy with what we accomplished.
"We do lose two seniors," added Reed, a junior, referring to Altman and post Alexandria Farnsworth. "We have our whole team out next year and I think we're going to take this experience and use it next year."