Paonia High School's volleyball team accomplished many things during its season. One goal was to get to state, and they did, for the fifth straight time. A second goal of winning a state volleyball title will have to be fullfilled at a later time after a thrilling battle in Pool 3 play in this year's 2A State Volleyball Championships.
The Eagles are no stranger to state competition as they have earned a trip to the 2A championships for the fifth straight year.
Paonia's run of five straight state appearances began in 2012 with the Eagles defeating Sangre de Cristo 3-0 and losing to Swink 0-3, finishing with a record of 23-5.
In 2013 Paonia failed to get out of pool play with losses to Yuma (0-3) and Sangre de Cristo (1-2) and ended its season 25-2.
The 2014 state trip saw Paonia get past Simla 3-1 and then lose to Caliche 2-3 for a season record of 26-1. The Eagles won their first two matches in 2015, 3-2 over Rye and 3-1 over Union Colony Prep. Their season ended with a 3-0 loss to Resurrection Christian and the Eagles were 25-3.
This year, Paonia ranked third, competed against No. 6 Yuma and No. 10 West Grand, to determine who would advance to semifinal round action on Saturday afternoon at the Denver Coliseum. Paonia split matches played in pool play, and lost a tie-breaker set to West Grand by a score of 30-32 to end the season with a 24-3 slate.
A combined record of 97-13 for the past five seasons isn't an easy task and indicates the superior dedication it takes to reach such lofty numbers in any classification. Hats off to coach Krista Carsten and her staff for a job well done building a program admired and envied across the state.
Eagles 3, Mustangs 1
Midday on Friday, the Eagles played West Grand first in the hunt for a team title. An aggressive and determined Mustang squad built an early 3-0 lead before the Eagles could tally its first point. A kill by Brianna Palmer made it 2-3 and the two teams stayed close with good volleys highlighting play.
Paonia seemed to have early-game jitters and made some uncharacteristic mistakes.
The first set was tied at 20-20 and 22-22 before Paonia took the lead at 23-22 and went on to score a 25-22 decision on another McKenna kill.
The Eagles had momentum early in the second set and led 9-6 before West Grand surged to a 13-13 tie. The score was tied at 19-19 and 22-22 setting the stage for a Paonia run for the final three points and a 25-23 win.
Play was even in the third set until West Grand's Peyton Bodemann took serve for a 12-4 Mustang lead when she finished her serve.
The Eagles had no answers for West Grand's offense and lost the third set 13-25.
A rejuvenated Eagles' team appeared in the fourth set and services by McKenna Hartigan and Van Vleet boosted Paonia's lead to 10-4.
West Grand found enough momentum to fight back for an 11-13 deficit to let the Eagles know it was going to be a battle. The Mustangs fought back for a 16-18 deficit and Van Vleet answered with her service, pushing Paonia's lead to 21-16.
Paonia held a three to four point lead the rest of the way and won the deciding fourth set 25-21 and a 3-1 match victory.
Yuma 3, Paonia 1
A win over Yuma would clinch a semifinal berth on Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately, the Indians proved to be too much for Paonia in a 3-1 loss.
Paonia played well in the first set against the Indians and claimed a 25-20 decision. The Indians were ready in set two and tied the match with a 25-13 win.
Yuma had the momentum and was able to keep it for wins in the next two sets 25-17 and 25-18.
A West Grand win over Yuma on Saturday forced a one-set playoff between the teams in Pool 3. Paonia lost an epic battle with West Grand by a 32-30 score. Yuma slipped past West Grand to secure the semifinal berth from Pool 3.
It was a heartbreaking weekend for the Eagles and coach Carsten. "The playoff game with West Grand was a pretty great battle. We had multiple opportunities to put the game away but couldn't convert. Three service errors down the stretch (2 for set point and one giving West Grand set point) and four or five of West Grand points at the end were our unforced errors. Pretty frustrating because we were given a second chance."
In an All-State meeting on Sunday, Carsten noted seniors Emily Pieper and McKenna Hartigan were both selected to play in the CCGS All-State games and is scheduled to be played in Arvada West High School on Saturday, Nov. 19.
Semifinalist on Saturday afternoon included No. 1 Dayspring Christian and No. 4 Colorado Springs School on one side of the bracket and No. 2 Hoehne and No. 6 Yuma on the other.
Dayspring Christian defeated CSC 3-2 and Yuma blanked Hoehne 3-0.
Dayspring Christian prevailed, in the championship match over Yuma, 3-0.