If the first week of the season is any indication, the Paonia High School girls' basketball team is going to be celebrating quite a few wins this year.
Many of the Paonia girls are still making the transition from volleyball to basketball, but the natural athletes that make up the deep Eagles roster showed no ill effects of a late start during the First Colorado National Bank Tournament last weekend at Paonia High School.
First Colorado National Bank is in its fourth year as sponsor of the event, which builds off of the old-school Delta Tournament that used to be held in December. Back in the day it was a true tournament of Delta County teams which would all play each other when college kids came home for the holidays.
Now it is an eight-team extravaganza played over three days at two different venues -- this year at Paonia High School and Delta High School.
Paonia 56, MHSJV 22
In the first game of the tournament last Thursday, the Eagles poured it on early and often, taking a 24-0 lead after the first quarter. They slowed down the pace a little bit and took a 33-7 lead at halftime.
"We definitely learned that we've got a lot of work to do," Paonia coach Scott Rienks said. "We came out and we pressed fine and got going there, but once we got in the half court our offense kind of slowed down because we weren't running it the right way."
In her first basketball game wearing the Eagles colors, junior Sophia Anderson scored a game-high 20 points in the win.
"It felt really good," Anderson said. "We did well in volleyball so we only had a week to prepare for this. Most of our girls play all sports but we can switch gears pretty quickly."
The Eagles shut out the Montrose Indians in the third quarter and upped their lead to 48-7. Paonia displayed the full-court pressure defense that Rienks' teams are known for and the junior varsity squad had no answer for it.
"I backed the press off last year, but this year with the athletes that we have we feel like it's an advantage for us," Rienks said. "I'm not going to say we'll never back off the press, but it's what I like to do."
With a roster full of upperclassmen who have run this system every year they've been in high school, the Eagles enjoy a strong chemistry and team attitude.
"We get along really well out on the floor," Anderson said. "We all like playing fast paced."
Paonia 56, NHS 28
In game two of the tournament last Friday, Paonia used much the same formula it used the day before: get a big lead early, use the press to get turnovers, then run a deliberate offense to close out the win.
Anderson opened the contest by running the floor for an uncontested layup. She later hit a 3-pointer, then stole the ball and scored at the buzzer to put Paonia ahead 22-2 after the first quarter.
Taylor Carsten dropped a dime for Emily Pieper late in the second, then went 2-for-4 from the charity stripe as the Eagles took a 35-15 lead at halftime.
The game was already well in hand when Anderson hit a pull up jumper and drained a 3-pointer in the third.
Brianna Van Vleet's bucket made it 46-19 for the Eagles going into the fourth.
Senior Marisa Edmondson drove the lane and scored the final hoop to put away the Norwood Mavericks.
Paonia 51, Titans 20
The Eagles' toughest test in the tournament came in game three last Saturday. The scrappy Titans handled the press better than the other previous squads, but Paonia was still able to overwhelm them in a sluggish game.
"We played probably our worst of the three games," Rienks said. "Part of it is when you press for three straight days this early in the season our legs weren't under us, and we missed some easy shots. We didn't have the right spacing against their zone."
After taking a 9-3 lead after the first quarter, Carsten got very active and helped the Eagles build their lead. Carsten hit a free throw and a jumper, then later had a steal and score to put Paonia ahead 20-5.
Brittany Kendall set up Brianna Van Vleet for a nice layup and Anderson connected on a 12-footer to send the Eagles into halftime leading 32-24.
"As far as defensive intensity, I thought we did well, I thought we worked hard," Rienks said. "But we just have to make sure we execute better on offense."
Pieper scored six points on three jump shots and Paonia extended its lead in the third quarter, which was highlighted by Rienks' first technical foul of the year.
"I've been known to get one once in a while," Rienks said. "It's just one of those things that I thought was a correctable error. It was a miscommunication. It's not a big deal. Just one of those things."
Paonia showed its range in the fourth quarter as Anderson, Kendall and Chey Christian all connected on 3-pointers to seal the win for the Eagles.
The first week couldn't have gone better for the No. 2 Eagles, who are already looking forward to the games against a familiar Delta County rival.
"We have goals," Rienks said. "Us and Cedaredge are two of the top four teams in the state. If we play up to our potential all year we should be in the top four at the end, and I think Cedaredge should, too."