Paonia girls head basketball coach Scott Rienks has one of the most athletic teams of his career. The Eagles were league and district champions, and last weekend they won their 22nd consecutive game of the season to qualify for this week's final 8 state tournament.
His five starters, seniors Brianna Van Vleet, Brittany Kendall, Sophia Anderson, McKenna Hartigan and Emily Pieper, are multi-sport athletes. All five have also committed to play sports in college.
Van Vleet signed in November to compete in track at Idaho State University, a member of the Division I Big Sky Conference. Last year she set the state 2A long jump record of 18 feet, 9.5 inches. Last summer Van Vleet qualified for the national Junior Olympics after winning the Colorado USA Track & Field competition. She joins sister Ashley VanVleet, who will be a sophomore next year. Van Vleet plans to study biology, and ultimately, zoology.
Kendall signed to play softball for the Dodge City Community College Conquistadors. She plans to study nutrition and Spanish. Paonia doesn't have a softball program, and North Fork softball players play for Cedaredge. During her senior year Kendall struck out 65 players in 74 innings.
Anderson signed last fall to play basketball at Colorado Mesa University. She plans to study kinesiology or secondary education. The 5-9 point guard credits her coaches for getting her this far, including the ones she had before moving to Paonia her sophomore year. Her junior year she was named to the CHSAA All-State second team.
Hartigan and Pieper committed to play volleyball and will sign their letters of intent in April. Both were four-year varsity players and were named to the 2016 Colorado High School Activities All-State First Team. During their four seasons under coach Krista Carsten the Eagles posted a 98-11 record and qualified for state all four years.
Hartigan is committed to play for Chadron State College in Chadron, Neb., where she plans to study wildlife biology. A 5-10 middle hitter at Paonia, she averaged 3.2 kills per set and had 76 total blocks for the season her senior year.
Pieper was the last of the five to commit to a school. She will play volleyball at St. Francis University in Loretto, Penn., where she plans to study nursing. At 5'8", she primarily played at setter and at outside hitter. Her senior year she had just 44 errors in 636 sets and scored 123 kills.
Rienks said that committing to a school takes the pressure off of senior athletes and allows them to enjoy the sport, rather than feel like they have something to prove. They know where they're going to school and what they'll do there. When Ashley Van Vleet signed to run track last year she played better and with more confidence than ever after signing, said Rienks.