Whispers around Paonia High School are reminding fans that this year's girls' basketball squad is starting to look a lot like another really good Eagles team.
The 2010 Eagles were the last Paonia squad to win state, and this year's version of the Eagles looks a lot like that dominating team.
Paonia is ranked No. 4 in 2A and boasts a 9-1 record, 3-0 in 1A/2A Western Slope League games. All nine wins were by at least 20 points.
Two blowout wins last week continued the Eagles' streak of scorching victories.
On Jan. 12, Paonia hosted North Fork Valley neighbor Hotchkiss for a renewal of their rivalry. According to published reports, the first time these teams played was Feb. 28, 1918. Paonia won the Western Slope Basketball Championship by beating Hotchkiss 36-16.
The 2015 version of the game turned out to be a 59-19 rout by Paonia.
Ashley Van Vleet scored from the paint and Paonia jumped quickly ahead, 7-0. Brittany Kendall scored a nice layup and then hit a 3-pointer. Back-to-back buckets from Taylor Carsten gave the Eagles an insurmountable 17-1 lead after the first quarter.
"We came out and took care of our stuff early," Paonia coach Scott Rienks said. "That was kind of what we wanted to do. We wanted to come out of the locker room and be ready to go."
Sophia Anderson scored on a baseline drive, then Chey Christian drove through the lane and scored for Paonia as the Eagles increased their lead in the second quarter.
Anderson had another bucket and Brianna Van Vleet had back-to-back scores, and Paonia jumped up 33-6. Anderson beat her defender off the dribble and scored again, and McKenna Hartigan's free throw sent Paonia into halftime ahead 36-7.
The Bulldogs employed an unusual strategy to open the second half. Point guard Mae Anderson brought the ball over the halfcourt line, then just stopped and held the ball.
All the other Bulldogs stood, unmoving, not executing an offense of any kind. Anderson just held the ball, not dribbling.
And time ticked off.
"That's the first time I've ever seen that," Rienks said. "I honestly didn't think they'd do it (stall) like that, and then when we got down to almost six minutes left, I was like, 'Are you kidding me?"
Eagles junior Emily Pieper, who was defending Anderson, was caught off guard along with the rest of Paonia's players.
"I didn't really know what to do," Pieper said. "So we just kind of looked at my coach and waited for him to tell us to play."
The Eagles have won many games by blowout during Rienks' nine-year career as coach, but neither he nor the players had ever seen such a stall tactic employed against them.
"That's not helping either program. The kids need to learn to play. It's frustrating," Rienks said. "There's a lot about that game I haven't seen before, and I've been coaching for a long time."
The referees whistled Hotchkiss for a violation of some kind after Anderson ended up holding the ball for at least 35 to 45 seconds.
Paonia got rolling again as soon as it had the ball. It led 53-7 after three quarters.
"I think we really work as a team," Pieper said. "Even though it wasn't a very tough team to play against I think we still kept the intensity and played together."
Paonia kept up the intensity in a victory on the road last Friday, beating Rangely 60-22. It was the Eagles' sixth win in a row since their only loss to Olathe. Oddly enough, the 2010 state champions also lost to Olathe.
"We practice hard," Rienks said. "We have intense practices and I think we showed that on the floor tonight."