The Paonia High School volleyball team is back to its winning ways.
After defeating Caprock and Rangely in its first home matches of the year last week, the Eagles are showing signs of the chemistry and teamwork that got them to the state tournament last year.
"I'm really happy with where we are at this point. We had some pretty big shoes to fill due to graduation of three starters, but all of these girls are stepping up to the plate," Paonia coach Krista Carsten said. "As long as we keep improving day by day, week by week, I believe we will be where we need to be by the end of October."
Senior Ashley Van Vleet started the Eagles off right against Caprock last Thursday, serving Paonia out to a quick 10-3 lead in the first game. She also finished with a 57.1 kill percentage.
In total the Eagles recorded 30 kills and 23 aces (10 of them by senior Taylor Carsten) in the match, which Paonia won 25-5, 25-5, 25-6.
"The team did a great job of maintaining intensity and focus throughout the entire match," Carsten said. "Caprock is much improved over last year."
The kill percentages for the Eagles were solid in the match. Juniors McKenna Hartigan (83.3 percent) and Emily Pieper (66.7 percent) each had a strong hitting performance.
Sophomore McKenna Palmer, maybe the tallest Eagle on a very tall team, had a 100 percent kill rating. That means every ball that was set to her, she scored on.
"Palmer is doing some good things," Carsten said. "She is tall, has solid hands, and puts up a big block, so having her filling in as an opposite would be really advantageous. She could shut down some solid outside hitters."
Rangely came to the Paonia gym and put up a fight against the Eagles last Saturday. Van Vleet dominated at the net, posting 13 kills and only two hitting errors, and Paonia won 25-14, 25-21, 25-16.
"It was a good, solid match across the board," Carsten said. "Rangely is a pretty scrappy team that hustles hard, but we also had some pretty amazing defensive plays that demonstrated pure hustle."
Junior McKenna Hartigan contributed 11 kills in the match victory for Paonia. Another Eagle making her presence felt early in the season is junior Sophie Anderson, who transferred to Paonia this year.
"Anderson is just so athletic and eager to learn," Carsten said. "We are working to improve her volleyball knowledge and her technical skills since she sat out of volleyball for a year, but she is making great steps and has been a great addition to our program."
Paonia takes the court again Thursday for Homecoming against Plateau Valley.
"Plateau Valley is traditionally a pretty solid defensive team," Carsten said. "As always, we will need to maintain a high level of intensity throughout and focus on the first contact so that we can establish our offense."
The Eagles are scheduled to face long-time rival Hotchkiss on Tuesday, Sept. 22, in the friendly confines of Paonia High School.