Paonia High School senior Taralee Mautz was looking forward to her final year of sports. A third-year varsity hitter on the volleyball team, in the third match of the season and she went up for a block. "I just came down wrong," she said. Because her three siblings had all suffered the same injury, she knew right away that it was a torn ACL in her left knee.
Volleyball coach Ce'rra Carsten only coached Mautz in four games, but called her "a very consistent and dedicated player."
While waiting for the final diagnosis, Mautz helped out at practices, running drills, tossing up balls, and working with her replacement at middle hitter, junior Lyla Hayutin-Baril. "Whatever coach needs me to do," she said.
From the bench she also watched her teammates and gave them pointers.
A diagnosis confirmed what she already knew. Rather than quit, she committed to finishing the volleyball season with the team.
With months of rehab still ahead, she was also going to miss her senior year playing her favorite sport, basketball. She'd made varsity as a freshman, and by her junior year was averaging five points and five rebounds per game and made 46 steals for the season. She would have been one of three seniors on the team.
To be a part of the team, Mautz said she knew that coaching was her only option. After three years on the varsity, team manager wasn't an option, she said. Upon receiving her diagnosis, she sent a text to head basketball coach Scott Rienks, letting him know he has a new assistant coach.
"I really value what he has to say," said Mautz of Rienks, arguably one of the most respected coaches in the state. "He's a two-time (girls) state champion coach, and I was on one of those teams." She also wanted to work with long-time assistant coaches John Blair and Brian Mitchem and "give back to my coaches what they gave to me."
She has one more reason not to quit. Younger sister Taneal is a varsity sophomore on the basketball team and is in the final days of recovering from her own torn ACL. "I kind of want to be an inspiration for her," said Mautz. "And we wanted to play together forever. So since we can't play together, I still want to be a part of her sophomore year and high school career."
Mautz, 17, grew up in an active family. Older sister Jesse played sports at Hotchkiss, and brother Tristan averaged more than 11 points per game his senior year when Paonia won the league title and placed fourth in the state. Dad Tony attended college on a basketball scholarship and coached all four kids in AAU. "I've just kind of grown up around basketball, and sports in general," said Mautz.
A few weeks into the season, "I feel like I understand the game a lot better," she said. "It's kind of like everyone said: I'm learning the game from a different perspective. You definitely understand the little things a lot more and you can see where discipline is lacking. I think, as an athlete, we don't fully comprehend what the coaches are telling us. But then once you're on the sideline coaching, you can see the little things that they've been telling you."
Working with Rienks has been "a valuable experience," she said. "If there's something that he thinks he needs to point out to me that I'm not understanding, he definitely will." And while the coaches focus on the big picture, she can focus on one individual and point out the little things.
"Taralee's doing a really good job," said Rienks. Coaches recently assigned her to work with the C and JV teams on in-bounds plays, implementing the plays and following up to make sure they were executed correctly.
She's also enjoying her senior year as a student and has been accepted to Colorado Mesa University.
Her favorite subjects are English, and since she's considering a career in physical therapy, anatomy with Tracy Campbell. While she's not set on coaching, "I've been thinking about it," she said.
If that's what she decides, said Rienks, "I think (this season) is going to make a huge difference." While the reason she's coaching -- her knee injury -- is sad, "She's becoming better because of it and sees the game from a different aspect."
And while Mautz enjoys coaching, she wants to be there for her teammates, encourage and support them, and help make them better players. "That's what really excites me, that I can make our team better, even though I'm not on the court."