The Paonia High School boys' basketball team appears to be a very motivated bunch.
After making it to the regional championship game the past two seasons, the experienced Eagles began their quest for the state tournament with three straight wins.
At the First Colorado National Bank Tournament last weekend, Paonia showed flashes of athleticism and teamwork that has its fans thinking this might be a special season.
Paonia 51, MHSJV 12
Even for a bunch of football players playing basketball, the first game was little more than a scrimmage as Paonia took a 24-0 lead over the junior varsity Montrose Indians after one quarter.
"It was a good first game for us," Paonia coach Chase Roeber said. "We've only had about two nights in the gym, a couple of guys only got one night, and a bunch of football players just finished up football."
Roeber worked the bench, and the Eagles led 38-7 after the third quarter.
"This was a good opener to get one under our belt, get one out of the way, get back in basketball mode a little bit," Roeber said. "We take it for that and move on."
Paonia 60, NHS 40
The Eagles came out flying against the No. 8 1A Norwood Mavericks.
Junior Colby Simpson showed his range, nailing three 3-pointers to go along with Dagan Rienks' bucket as Paonia jumped ahead 11-7 four minutes into the contest.
Alex Lozano fired a 3-pointer, then Francisco Lopez stole the ball and scored for the Eagles. Taylor Walters connected at the buzzer and Paonia led 18-9 after the first quarter.
Simpson canned another 3, Rienks drove to the glass and scored, and Cameron Van Vleet had a couple of buckets as Paonia upped its lead to 31-13 at halftime.
Rienks scored 10 points off a variety of post moves and free throws, and the Eagles led 46-23 after three quarters.
Lopez completed a 3-point play, Van Vleet scored inside, and Rienks hit four free throws down the stretch and the Eagles finished off the Mavericks.
Paonia 65, Titans 50
The Titans offered the Eagles their biggest challenge on the last day of the tournament, but Paonia showed that the team is coming together fast.
"I like that we were able to get up and down the floor in a hurry. We were able to play with a fast team like that," Roeber said. "You got to give them a lot of credit. They fought back and we were able to hold them off at every opportunity."
Trevor Plymale hit a 3-pointer from the top of the arc, Rienks brought the house down with a big dunk, and Simpson scored two more 3-pointers as the Eagles led 21-9 after the first quarter.
Brandon Herrera got the Titans going the second quarter. He hit a 3-pointer and drove through the lane and scored, then Hunter Gerber scored right before the buzzer, and Coal Ridge won the second quarter 15-11.
The Titans kept coming back and cut Paonia's lead to 36-34 in the third.
Paonia regained the momentum with a three-point play from Rienks, a bucket in transition from Walters and three 3-pointers -- two from Plymale and another by Simpson. The Eagles led 55-36 after three quarters.
"Playing a little more disciplined helped us," Roeber said. "We didn't have nearly as many fouls as we did last night. The less we can put people on the line, the better we're going to be."
Simpson drove through the lane and scored, then Lopez found Triston Mautz with a perfect bounce pass that led to a bucket as Paonia secured the win.
The Eagles are off to a 3-0 start and have the No. 10 ranking in 2A.
"We got a few guys that just love basketball, that just love it, and that's contagious," Roeber said. "Those guys get in and get guys going and help us get off to a fast start, and then we just kept going."
Paonia was on the road last night in Olathe and is at Telluride on Friday night.
The seventh annual Eckert Crane Days, the annual viewing of the sandhill cranes migrating north from New Mexico through Colorado's West Slope, will be March 16-18. Representatives from the Black Canyon Chapter of the Audubon Society (BCAS) will be at the viewing site east of Eckert at Fruitgrowers Reservoir, 9 to 11 a.m. each day, to answer questions and provide binoculars and spotting scopes.