The Eagles are off to a good start under new head volleyball coach Karla Head. Following last week's two conference wins and a non-conference loss to 3A Coal Ridge, they are 4-1 overall and undefeated in the 2A/1A Western Slope League.
After being on the road for two weeks, Friday Paonia came home to a 25-15, 25-9, 25-21 conference win against Soroco, and followed up Saturday with a 25-16, 25-17, 25-7 conference win over Hayden.
Paonia lost a lot of height last season, but Head is finding ways to fill in the gaps. After three years as a libero, senior Randi Rapke is adjusting well to a whole new role as an outside hitter. "It's a lot different from the last few years, because we've had the height," said Rapke. "We don't anymore," and that puts her on the front line.
And while it's different, "I like being more rounded," said Rapke. "I get to pass, and I get to hit, and I get to block."
Rapke stands 5-2 on a good day. "My whole life I've been shorter than the other girls," said Rapke, also a member of the 2017 state champion basketball team and runner/jumper on three state champion track teams. "I have to use my height to my advantage." Unlike the taller players, including 5-11 teammate Mckenna Palmer, "I can't get up and pound on the ball a lot."
While she'd love to jump high above the net, her placement is exceptional, said Head, who saw something other than libero in Rapke. "She's got a lot of maturity and so coach-able," said Head. "She's just super smart."
At last summer's UNC skills camp at the University of Northern Colorado, "I didn't hand her a libero jersey."
Rapke said that was hard for her, but now she's having fun. In her first three matches she racked up 15 kills and 39 digs.
Her teammates are also beginning to grasp their role under a new head coach, "And that helps us all play better."
The Eagles opened the week with a 3-1 (25-23, 22-25, 20-25, 19-25) loss against 3A Coal Ridge.
Head called the Titans "a great, well-coached team." Not to take anything away from them, said Head, but the game would have had a different outcome had setter Poppy Lightfoot not rolled her ankle about three plays into the second set after chalking up three assists, nine attacks for two kills and six digs in the first set.
"We had to make a huge adjustment from running a six-two offense to running a 5-1," said Head.
Sophomore Carly Horn played at setter for the remainder of the match, making 17 assists in 87 attempts with five errors. "She really stepped up and did a great job," said Head.
It was scary, said Horn. "I haven't had to take on that whole responsibility yet, but I was confident in my team."
She also recalled Lightfoot being in a similar situation last year when she had to fill in for senior setter Emily Pieper for two weeks.
Horn said the team practices rotations with her as the main setter, but Lightfoot is still on the court. "It was just different without her out there."
With that first experience behind her, she said, "Next time I'll be more ready."
Paonia is on the road this weekend. It hosts Nucla on Sept. 23, and Vail Christian Sept. 26.