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Paonia girls No.1 going into season; seek titles

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Photo by Eric Goold Brianna Van Vleet, McKenna Hartigan and Sophia Anderson (left to right) are all seniors and will lead an experienced Eagles team this season.

The girls basketball team from Paonia High School still remembers the score: 55-46.

Last year in the 2A state title game, the Eagles lost to Yuma by that tally and fell just short of their ultimate goal.

"I don't want them to get over it," Paonia coach Scott Rienks said at practice last week. "I'm putting up on the scoreboard almost every practice the score of that game. We know it was a 55-46 game; the girls can tell you all about that.

"I've told them, I'm not doing it to make them mad. I'm doing it to make them realize that we want to reverse that score this year," Rienks added. "Our goal is to be on the other side of that and it's a reminder of what we're working for."

Paonia enters the season ranked No. 1 in the CHSAA online poll. And defending champ Yuma is right behind them at No. 2.

This year's version of the Eagles has almost every player from last year's squad coming back, with one glaring exception.

"Losing Ashley Van Vleet especially hurt us," Rienks said. "She was our leading scorer and an all-state player."

But the Eagles have plenty of depth this year to try and equal last year's squad, which finished the season 24-3.

"My two post players coming up right now with McKenna Hartigan and McKenna Palmer, they're 5-10 and 6 feet, so we haven't had that kind of height in a while. They're both doing really well. They're both athletic and they can jump really well."

Paonia will also feature the best backcourt in 2A with three seniors.

"And then you go with Emily Pieper and Sophie Anderson and Brianna Van Vleet as guards, on defense that's pretty scary," Rienks said.

Randi Rapke, Brittany Kendall, Poppy Lightfoot, Kassidy Rapke, McKenna Johnson and Taralee Mautz round out the Eagles roster.

"We've got some pretty solid kids coming in and playing," Rienks said. "I just feel like right now we're looking pretty athletic."

The fate of the Eagles will depend largely upon Anderson, the 5-8 senior who came to Paonia last season from Hoehne and has already committed to play in college at Colorado Mesa University.

"Sophie is going to take the next step. She's worked on her shot and she's more of a threat from the outside and so I'm excited about what she's going to do," Rienks said. "Last year she came into a new system, new offense and new defense, now she's the point. She and Emily Pieper are going to rotate at the point, it's their job and it's their team and I think they know what to do."

The Eagles got a late start to practice after many of the girls played at the volleyball state tournament, but Paonia's depth and veteran leadership picked up right where they left off last year.

"We started off with the right intensity. We're working hard defensively," Rienks said. "We're still working on some stuff offensively. We're trying to make some adjustments, but defensively the intensity is there, presses are looking pretty good already so I think we'll be ready to go."

Eagles soar to 2-0

Paonia had little problem with its first two opponents at a Ridgway Tournament held last weekend Dec. 2-3.

The Eagles beat Norwood's Mavericks 57-15 on Saturday and cruised to another big victory, 58-10, over Ridgway's Demons on Friday.

Paonia hosted Olathe's Pirates last night, Dec. 6, in its first home game of the season. The Pirates have had the Eagles' number and have beaten Paonia in eight of the last nine seasons, including a double-overtime win last year.

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