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Photo by Eric Goold Paonia volleyball players, left to right, Emily Pieper, Emily Clawson, Kassidy Rapke and McKenna Hartigan watch as Sophie Anderson digs the ball out against Meeker. The match was the annual Pink Night and both teams wore black and pink

The Paonia High School volleyball team saw a little of everything last week.

The Eagles fell to a very strong Delta team, marking its third loss in four matches. But then Paonia came back with two wins against Meeker and Rangely to get back on the right track.

Last Tuesday at home, the Eagles faced county rival Delta and the Panthers' outstanding duo of hitters, Emily Baier and Ashton Reese.

In a seesaw, five-set barnburner, the Eagles lost 26-24, 17-25, 25-20, 16-25, 11-15.

"It was just great effort from both teams," Delta coach Beth Nelson said. "It was a good volleyball match. Our key was to match the hustle they bring. We're just really happy to come out on top."

Paonia did a good job against Delta's talented players and led 2-1 going into the fourth set. But then Baier and Reese heated up to lead the visitors to victory.

"We were able to control Ashton early in the match, but she really stepped up later in the game, adjusted to our block, and played well down the stretch," Paonia coach Krista Carsten said. "Emily is just a solid player. She was definitely their go-to girl when they needed a side out, and we struggled to shut her down throughout the entire match. Although a loss is always disappointing, Delta is a strong, well-coached team."

The annual Pink Night, Paonia's yearly fundraiser for breast cancer awareness, was held last Friday night and the Eagles enjoyed the festivities and were motivated to beat Meeker in three sets, 25-10, 25-17, 25-22.

Emily Pieper led the way for the Eagles with nine kills, five aces and 13 assists in the win. McKenna Hartigan had eight kills and Ashley Van Vleet, Brianna Van Vleet and Sophie Anderson each contributed five kills. Taylor Carsten had a match-high 17 assists in the victory.

"The intensity just wasn't there in the third set," coach Carsten said. "I think we lost focus with all of the extra events going on in the gym. We have talked extensively about playing at our level, rather than playing at the level of the competition, and game three was just an indication that we still have a lot of work to do."

Paonia went to Rangely and won on the road last Saturday, winning in three sets 25-21, 25-23, 25-7.

"Rangely is a pretty strong defensive team which shows in our hitting percentages," Carsten said. "They gave us a ton of freeballs that we didn't convert on as well as we should have. But we did come away with the win so that was positive."

Taylor Carsten led the Eagles against Rangely, recording nine kills, 13 digs and 17 assists. Pieper chipped in nine kills in the victory.

It's been an up and down season at this point for the Eagles, who over the years got accustomed to winning no matter what adversity they faced. Competition in the region is very tough this year and Paonia finds itself in unfamiliar territory.

"Although I have some fairly seasoned players on the floor, none of our hitters have the experience of carrying the team and leading the team when we struggle," Carsten said. "In the past we've had players who were confident enough and fiery enough to know they could side out when we needed it. We are still working on identifying our roles in aspects of play both offensively and defensively."

The Eagles lost confidence against big blocking teams like Cedaredge and Delta.

"Communication and confidence seem to become a problem when we are playing a solid team," Carsten said. "We are reinforcing the importance of each and every player knowing that they have a job to do in supporting their teammates when the chips are down."

Carsten is confident that this Eagles' team can do some great things once it fine tunes its approach and figures out who the go-to player is at different times and in different situations.

"This group definitely has the potential to be the best team I have ever coached if we can fit all the pieces together," Carsten said.

Paonia was at home against Olathe last night and goes on the road to Plateau Valley on Thursday and to Meeker on Saturday.

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