The Paonia tennis team served and volleyed in its first matches of the year last Saturday at Apple Valley Park, and the Eagles showed that they are in for a promising season.
Paonia hosted Vail Mountain School and Montezuma-Cortez. Vail Mountain is traditionally one of the better teams in the region.
Cortez was shorthanded and played with three singles and one doubles team.
"Our matches went kind of like I expected," said Paonia coach Brian Benson. "I think Vail may contend with Steamboat and Aspen at the end of the season, they're pretty good. We were overmatched for the most part except at the top spot."
Vail Mountain beat Paonia 6-1.
Senior Luke Yerion won the spotlight match of the day for Paonia at No. 1 singles, defeating Vail Mountain's Kevin Kalkus 6-3, 7-5. Kalkus challenged Yerion with a booming serve.
"His serve was really good, probably the fastest serve I've played against," Yerion said. "It was definitely his biggest weapon."
Yerion did well on service returns, keeping the ball in play and showing a powerful forehand. He was down in the second set 2-5 before he rallied to win the next five games in a row for the match victory.
"At the beginning of the second set I was feeling pretty tired," Yerion said. "Then I started running him around, and I thought I had a bit more stamina. It feels really good. Last year I lost at 2 singles to Vail, so it's really good to get a win today."
Sophomore Enoch Kropp competed for Paonia at the No. 2 singles spot. He faced tough opposition from Vail Mountain in his first match before controlling his opponent from Cortez 6-1, 6-1.
"The kid from Vail Mountain was really good. I just could never really set up any points," said Kropp. "In this one I seemed to get more of my shots in and set up some winners for me. I was able to get into my flow and do what I needed to do."
Kropp was able to eliminate the mistakes that plagued him in the morning, starting strong and playing consistently in his second match.
"I think my game is pretty good right now," Kropp said. "I just need to maybe work on overheads and easy mistakes that need to be fixed. Other than that I think I'm going to be okay."
At the No. 3 singles slot for Paonia was senior Nick Cambria. He followed a pattern similar to Kropp; after playing well in a gritty first-match defeat, Cambria rolled an early lead into a dominating win against Cortez.
"I hadn't played singles competitively yet, it's a lot different from camps," Cambria said. "I didn't think it would be that different but it is, so I kind of got nervous this morning. He definitely did beat me. I won't make any excuses there, but I helped him a bit more than I should have."
Once he worked out the butterflies, Cambria landed some strong serves against Cortez and won some quick points. Cambria said physically he felt much more comfortable and his early lead turned into a convincing match win.
"I kind of came out and I wasn't nervous and I wasn't cramped up or anything," Cambria said. "I did play a lot from last season to this season. I'm definitely going to shoot for state and I actually have a chance for once, so that's nice."
Paonia beat Cortez in the team match 6-0.
"The Cortez match provided better match ups for us and we controlled all of the singles matches," Benson said. "We also won a marathon match at No. 2 doubles."
High school tennis features three singles matches and four doubles teams.
Paonia is shorthanded this year, fielding only three doubles teams, with nine total players. Six are from Hotchkiss and three are from Paonia.
Ethan Eller and Eli Etter played at No. 1 doubles for the Eagles, while Quentin Varner and Zach Sinai formed the duo in the No. 2 slot.
Varner and Sinai won their match against Cortez on Saturday, 6-4, 6-7 (3-7), 10-4.
Isaac Van Horn and Logan Smith completed the squad at No. 3 doubles.
The Eagles are scheduled to play tomorrow in Grand Junction at Central High School. After that, the Eagles will be on the road against state powerhouse Aspen on Tuesday.