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Photo by Tamie Meck Senior Jose Pantoja guards David Lozano during a Paonia pre-season practice. Lozano, a third-year varsity senior, averaged 5.5 points and 2.9 rebounds per game last season.
Photo by Tamie Meck Junior Landon Thliveris defends against Elan Maulhardt. A third-year varsity senior, Maulhardt averaged 3.3 points a game and had 67 total rebounds last season.

Eagles head into new season 2-0 under new head hoops coach

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The Paonia Eagles opened the basketball season at 2-0 and with a new head coach. Tim Esgar replaces Chase Roeber, a PHS graduate who stepped down last spring after seven seasons.

Roeber had a 125-54 win-loss record and two state appearances. In 2016 Paonia had a 25-2 record and placed sixth in state in Class 2A. Paonia lost six seniors last year after a 14-9 season. Because Roeber was a good coach, "We've got some experience to work with," said Esgar.

The Eagles opened the season with a 46-31 win over Norwood Friday at the annual Norwood Shootout.

On Saturday, Paonia edged out Ridgway, 39-27. Seniors David Lozano and Soul Connolly led the team in scoring in both games.

Lozano and senior Elan Maulhardt bring the most experience to Paonia's game. With six seniors and a strong varsity squad, senior Jose Pantoja saw limited court time last season.

Connolly is new to the team. A 6-2 senior, he wrestled last season and pitched on the Eagles' state championship baseball team. "There's no doubt, he's going to help us," said Esgar.

Varsity juniors include Landon Thliveris, Kyle Long, Jai Petmezas, Justin Holt, Logan Green, and Elijah Evans; and sophomores are Dominic Felice and Sean Maulhardt.

We've got a tough schedule," said Esgar. They play their home opener this Thursday against Caprock Academy (Grand Junction). Before the year ends they'll face 3A Olathe on Dec. 11, Coal Ridge on Dec. 14, and Cedaredge at the First Colorado National Bank tournament Dec. 21-22. They'll end the tournament and the calendar year against either 3A Delta or 2A rival Hotchkiss.

Five of their six games in January, Hayden, West Grand, Meeker, De Beque and a non-conference game against 3A Grand Valley, will be played at home.

Esgar, a math teacher and athletic director at Paonia Junior-Senior High School, brings nine years of varsity/junior varsity coaching experience and an additional seven years of junior high coaching to the program. From 2004-2008 he was an assistant at Paonia under long-time head coach Steve Swartzendruber. In 2007-2008, his last year as an assistant coach, Paonia was the Class 2A state runner up.

Before coming to Paonia Esgar was assistant girls coach at Crested Butte for a season, and head girls coach for four seasons. He graduated from Western State College in Gunnison before moving to Paonia to teach junior high math in 2004.

Because he taught at the junior high level, it was a better fit, said Esgar. He's now coaching several of those players on varsity. "Most of those kids," he said, "they love basketball."

Esgar has three part-time assistant coaches, Jim Maulhardt, former Paonia girls basketball player and all-state volleyball player Ce'rra Carsten, and Jin Pack.

Esgar said he'll be paying close attention to statistics. "Being a math teacher, I'm a stats person," he said. "Video and stats don't lie."

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