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PHS volleyball seeks 5th straight state visit

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Photo by Eric Goold Paonia volleyball coach Krista Carsten demonstrates proper footwork at the net for a couple of Eagles during a recent practice. Carsten has directed the Eagles to the state tournament four years in a row, including last year's 1A semif

The Eagles seniors want to make it five in a row.

The Paonia High School volleyball team opens the season tomorrow night at home against Norwood led by four seniors who are seeking the program's fifth consecutive appearance at the 2A state tournament.

"We'll be there," coach Krista Carsten said after practice last Friday. "I expect nothing less than that."

Last year the Eagles made their furthest run at the state tournament, reaching the semifinals before falling to Resurrection Christian.

Seniors Emily Pieper, Sophia Anderson, McKenna Hartigan and Brianna Van Vleet have seen a lot of success in their careers and look to continue Paonia's strong volleyball legacy and get back to state.

In a scrimmage last Wednesday in Montrose, the group looked ready to play.

"They had the best communication. You didn't see those little miscommunications or glitches you might see in a scrimmage," Carsten said. "They just played together really well. I'd have to say probably the best start I've ever seen with our team at that scrimmage."

Juniors McKenna Johnson, McKenna Palmer and Randi Rapke will add depth to a team that already has a lot of experience and athleticism.

That experience will be needed as the Eagles are switching systems on offense. Pieper, one of the team's leading outside hitters, will move to setter in a 5-1 lineup.

Last year Taylor Carsten was usually the primary setter while Pieper got occasional work at the position.

"We're mixing up lineups. Emily is having to adjust to not being a hitter," Carsten described. "That's changed the look of our team a lot, not having her as a hitter. Last year we ran a 6-2 with Emily and Tay, it was a training year for her. So being able to do that with Taylor gave her a lot of knowledge. She gets to do that on her own this year."

The Eagles lost Taylor Carsten, Ashley Van Vleet and Emily Clawson to graduation, but Carsten said this year's seniors are eager to continue their tradition of outstanding volleyball play.

"Ash and Emily and Tay, yeah, they were a pretty important part of our program for a long time," Carsten said. "But these girls that are seniors this year, they've been there too. They're working on building that legacy and these girls have been starters three years. They're just doing a great job."

Paonia has a tough schedule that includes two 5A teams and several playoff contenders.

"We've gone back to the big league, where we're traveling all over Colorado," Carsten said. "Long weekends but that's okay. We're excited."

Tomorrow night's match at Paonia High School against Norwood's Mavericks is scheduled for a 5 p.m. start for the varsity.

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