The Paonia tennis team is small in numbers but big in heart and enthusiasm.
The Eagles, featuring a combined team of players from Paonia and Hotchkiss, have improved steadily over the course of the season despite having to forfeit doubles matches because of a small turnout.
Paonia faced regional power Durango last Thursday at Apple Valley Park for Homecoming. While the Eagles lost 7-0, they have much to build on going into the final weeks of the season.
"We ended up getting swept by Durango, which is really not that surprising," coach Brian Benson said. "Their No. 1 singles (Fred Edwards) is one of the best players in the state, and Luke (Yerion) actually played pretty well against him, it's just hard to win any games."
Yerion fared well against Edwards early in their match, but Edwards' big, booming left-handed serve eventually became too powerful to overcome.
Enoch Kropp and Nick Cambria fought hard in close matches at No. 2 and No. 3 singles, respectively.
"We also had good matches in the singles, with Enoch losing 4-6, 4-6, and Nick lost in a third set tiebreaker 7-6 (7-1), 0-6, 7-10," Benson reported.
As has happened often in the season, Paonia had to forfeit two of its doubles matches against Durango, but the play it got in the No. 1 doubles was encouraging. Ethan Eller and Eli Etter keep getting better and better for the Eagles.
"Ethan and Eli had a very good shot at winning the first set, before dropping that and the match 5-7, 0-6," Benson said. "So all in all, not as bad as that 0-7 score would imply."
Durango kept up its winning ways, going to Grand Junction on Friday and winning the six-team Delta County Invitational. Paonia finished right behind in second place.
Paonia hosted the event and Benson reported that the Eagles came away with two championships. Durango had three and the Fruita JV and Steamboat JV each went away with one championship. Cortez and the Grand Junction JV were the other squads at the Invitational.
Edwards won the No. 1 singles, with Yerion claiming second in the Invitational with wins over Cortez and Fruita.
Kropp took the No. 2 singles championship with wins over Cortez and Fruita, and he also won a marathon match against a state qualifier from Durango that featured two tie breaks.
Cambria claimed Paonia's other championship in the Invitational after winning all three of his matches in No. 3 singles.
At No. 1 doubles, Eller and Etter defeated Cortez 6-0, 6-1, then lost to Durango, and then defeated Fruita 3-6, 6-4, 10-4.
Fruita, Durango and Paonia all technically tied with 2-1 records, but because of tie breaking criteria Eller and Etter had to settle for third place at the Invitational.
Fruita's Wildcats were first and Durango second.
Benson reported positive results from the No. 2 doubles.
"Zach Sinai and Quentin Varner really had an outstanding day, competing very well I thought," he said. "They won their first match against Fruita 6-1, 6-4, then narrowly lost to Steamboat, then lost the third-place match to Durango."
Isaac Van Horn and Logan Smith rounded out Paonia's results at the No. 3 doubles. Benson said they both played very well in losing efforts to Fruita and Durango.
The tennis team is headed into the final stretch of the season. The Eagles face Grand Junction's JV today at 3:30 p.m. at Apple Valley Park, then travel to powerhouse Vail Mountain on Saturday.
After a bye week, the Eagles will then go to the regional tournament in Grand Junction on Oct. 8-9.