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Paonia boys' team has high ranking and hopes

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Photo by Eric Goold Paonia coach Chase Roeber surveys the floor during a Paonia boys' basketball game last weekend at Paonia High School. Roeber leads the No. 10-ranked team in Class 2A and said that it's state tournament or bust for the experienced Eagle

Paonia High School boys' basketball coach Chase Roeber doesn't mince words when asked about goals and expectations for the 2015 version of the Eagles hoopsters.

"Nothing short of making the state tournament," Roeber said after the first game of the year. "If we don't get to the state tournament, it's a bust."

Roeber has reason to be optimistic, and the Eagles are highly regarded throughout the state. In the first CHSAA online poll, Paonia is ranked No. 10 in 2A. Sanford is No. 1 and is the defending 2A state champion.

"We've been to the regional championship game twice," Roeber said. "These guys have played in both of those games, a couple of guys saw a lot of minutes in those games. So we're hoping we can ride out some of that experience and get past that point this year."

As has been the case for now three years, this year's basketball team will be working out the transition from football on the fly, and Roeber knows he has to be patient while the Eagles get their basketball legs back.

Paonia has a promising blend of upperclassmen and young talent on this year's roster. A group of five seniors will be the foundation the Eagles are built upon.

Cameron Van Vleet is tall and quick. Trevor Plymale is a solid shooting guard, and Jeramiah Hillman will break out his speed on the hardwood once he gets in basketball shape after playing football.

Taylor Walters is the senior captain of the team. Walters is a force in the paint and uses his size effectively on the defensive and offensive boards.

And Francisco Lopez shows the benefit of an offseason spent in the gym as he is taller, stronger and playing with more confidence than he was last year.

"We're gonna be tough to match up with because of our height," Roeber said. "I expect we'll see a lot of guys play zone on us because it's hard to match up. We are fairly tall, but we're athletic, too, so we can stretch the floor."

The seniors will be supplemented by a standout group of Paonia juniors.

Alex Lozano and Triston Mautz are two quality guards who can handle the ball and shoot it.

Colby Simpson has sparkled early in the season, showing deep range when he shoots the 3 and also showing an impressive ability to drive to the basket.

Dagan Rienks is the tallest and perhaps the most athletic player on the Eagles roster. The junior center looks two inches taller than last year and has shown an improved skill set around the rim and is only going to get better as the year goes on.

Sophomores Sean Devlin, Enoch Kropp and Anders Schopp will spend time on both the varsity and junior varsity squads this year for the Eagles.

Competition will be tough, as always, for Paonia. Perennial league contender Meeker is ranked No. 7 in 2A.

"I expect Cedaredge to be really tough. The rivalry we have with Hotchkiss always turns out to be a good game," Roeber said. "And then Meeker always has a good squad that plays hard and is always in the mix. So on our side of the league I think those three will be the ones to look out for."

This year's version of the Eagles has all the right players. Now they just have to play.

"This is a very special team," Roeber said. "We just have to play consistent and do our job every night."

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