At 25-0, the Lady Eagles are one of three undefeated teams in Class 2A heading into this week's state championship 2A volleyball tournament after defeating two Mustang teams and claiming the District C title Saturday at Paonia High School.
Paonia met West Grand a week earlier at the district tournament, where the Mustangs placed third behind Meeker.
With six freshmen on its squad and as many as four freshmen on the court at any one time, West Grand played a strong defensive game, picking up digs that would have done most other teams in, and took the second set to extra points.
They lost by a total of 17 points (20-25, 24-26, 19-25), which is better than most of their opponents can say.
And they made Paonia work for the win. Of the Eagles' 62 match digs, Carson Pipher, Morgan Hartigan and Easton Hartigan each had 12 and Claire Tracy added 10.
"They came to play. That was pretty obvious," said head coach Krista Carsten of West Grand. "They're going to be solid in the future."
Morgan Hartigan had a team-high 16 kills against the Mustangs, including three consecutive strong side shots, in game three to boost Paonia to a 25-19 win. Pipher scored 11 kills. Paonia served 10 aces, led by Easton Hartigan with three.
With one senior, Nucla is also a young and competitive team. Paonia averaged more than 20 digs per set against this Mustang team. The No. 2 seed at the tournament, Nucla pushed the Lady Eagles to 71 digs — 13 for Carsten, Pipher and Morgan Hartigan, and 12 for Tracy — and 12 errors.
Paonia had several of those little errors — double contacts, mis-hits and the occasional shank — and committed 34 attack errors and gave away 14 points on service errors on the day. They found themselves trailing by eight points in game two against Nucla.
"We have a tendency to give up way too many points on unforced errors," said Carsten. "When you're as aggressive as we are offensively, that's just what happens. But we usually settle in and finish."
Paonia finished the second set against Nucla with a 25-22 win, then wrapped up the regional championship with a convincing 25-10 third-set win.
Battling through the early mistakes and "putting it away ... when they absolutely have to has been their strength," said Carsten. "They stepped up today."
Sophomore setter Taylor Carsten had 163 touches and 55 assists for the day. Carsten is ranked third in state 2A competition in assists and in serving aces. Of 377 serves, Carsten has 84 of the team's 294 aces this year.
Carsten, who was in a knee brace Saturday, served five of the team's 16 aces. Carsten starts her floating serves from against the gym wall, scanning the competition and gaining momentum before serving. But on Saturday she served from the line, and with no errors. The adjustment is in anticipation of state, said Carsten, where players have little service area to move about in. As a starting freshman at state, Carsten was caught off guard by the change.
Paonia placed sixth at state in 2012 and was the first Paonia team to qualify in 22 years. This year they are more prepared for those little surprises. Carsten, who has 735 assists and more than 2,000 touches this season, said she has absolute faith in her team. "They know the situation, they know what to do and they put the ball away," said Carsten. Paonia has four returning starters and their 2012 state experience will be useful, said Carsten. After being eliminated, the team stuck around to watch the championship game.
That experience "helps us to see how much harder we need to hit, how much harder we need to play," and gave them some goals to work on before this year's state tournament, said Carsten.
While seeding and schedules were unavailable at press time, at least one other Western Slope team will advance. Meeker, which lost to Paonia in the Oct. 26 district tournament, defeated Ridgway to win the Region G tournament. Ridgway was one of four teams eligible for a wildcard slot, while 2012 state qualifier Telluride, which shut Meeker out of last year's regional tournament, lost out.
Fowler (24-0), Sangre de Cristo (24-1), Yuma (20-5), Lutheran (defending state champion, 22-2), Resurrection Christian (25-0), and Colorado Springs School (23-2) also qualified for state. Other possible wildcards include Ridgway, Rye, Akron, Swink, Sargent and Simla, the 2012 state runner-up. Visit maxpreps.com or coloradopreps.com for state tournament seeding and brackets.
According to state scheduling, all matches begin at 8 a.m. each day (Friday and Saturday) with the next scheduled match set to start eight minutes following the completion of the match prior. Paonia plays first at 12:30 p.m.blog comments powered by Disqus