The Paonia High School girls' volleyball team posted two wins at the state championship tournament last weekend and reached the 2A semifinals for the first time.
While the Eagles fell in three sets to powerful Resurrection Christian, Paonia completed its fourth consecutive trip to the state tournament by going further than any of the previous Eagles teams that made it to the Denver Coliseum.
"We played really well. I couldn't be more proud of them," Eagles coach Krista Carsten said. "We were playing a team that's the two-time champ and has been No. 1 all year and we gave them a good run for their money. So I was very proud of our team."
The Eagles lost to Resurrection Christian 23-25, 25-27, 19-25.
As the scores indicate, the match was in doubt throughout and the sets could have gone either way with a bounce here or a call there.
"We played hard. We did a lot of really good things," Carsten said. "We put up a good block and blocked a lot of balls. They didn't beat us on hitting. They scored a lot more on tips than they did on balls that they hit hard. They are a program that's used to winning and I think we surprised a lot of people."
Senior Taylor Carsten's ace to open the first set let the Cougars know that the Eagles were not going to be pushovers.
A very fast-paced tempo moved the set along quickly and neither team was ahead by more than three in the set.
McKenna Hartigan had a block that cut the Cougars' lead to 23-21 and senior Ashley Van Vleet's block tied it at 23, but the Cougars took the set with a side out and a kill.
Paonia's best chance came in the second set. Emily Pieper's kill and a Cougar hit out of bounds gave the Eagles an early 6-2 advantage, then Hartigan had a kill and a service winner that put Paonia up 10-7.
Pieper and Van Vleet had kills and Paonia led 15-11.
Resurrection Christian rallied to tie the set 17-17 and the score was tied again at 20 after another kill from Pieper.
A frantic finish saw another tie at 24 and at 25 before a Cougar kill and a Paonia hit out of bounds secured the set for Resurrection Christian.
Paonia sophomore McKenna Palmer recorded a kill that made the score 12-10, Cougars, in the third set. Resurrection Christian maintained a 2-point lead for most of the set until forcing a Paonia timeout when Resurrection Christian led 19-15.
The Cougars were able to secure the match win behind their powerful outside hitting and their strong group of five seniors.
"It would have been nice to be in the championship, but the fact that we're in the semis is a first for us," Carsten said. "And we have to feel happy about the way we played because we did play well in this tournament."
Paonia won its way to the semifinals with two match victories that did not come easy. The Eagles won the first match of the tournament early Friday morning after defeating Rye 25-16, 22-25, 25-6, 20-25, 15-10.
Then the Eagles won the pool with a four-set victory over Union Colony. Paonia beat the Timberwolves 25-23, 25-21, 23-25, 25-17.
"We were pretty happy with our pool and our draw," Carsten said. "We were ready to be here and we were ready to play some volleyball."