After a 22-4 season and a fourth-place finish at state, the Paonia Eagles lost four six-foot-plus players and most of its size to graduation. But there's a lot of returning talent left to work with.
"It's definitely going to be a different team," said sixth-year head coach Chase Roeber. Without the size, Paonia will have a different game plan this season and will get to try some new strategies.
This summer the team did something new. Rather than travel to team camps they stayed close to home, holding open gyms, working on skills, and attending the annual team camp at Hotchkiss.
The season will also bring new opportunities for returning players to show what they can do. The team got off to a good start, winning both games in last weekend's San Juan Basin/Western Slope League Shootout at Paonia.
They opened the season with a 54-34 win over Norwood. In Saturday's 58-18 win over Ridgway, senior Enoch Kropp scored 18 points.
Kropp was the high scorer off the bench last season, averaging 3.7 points per game.
Slater Podgorny will start at point guard. Podgorny is a third-year varsity player and had 34 assists as a junior.
Sean Devlin returns for his senior year. Devlin averaged three points per game last season. Senior Riley Simianer, who averaged 2.3 points per game last season, is a starting senior and scored 10 points against Norwood Saturday. Senior Cade Meilner came off the bench to sink two three-pointers.
Juniors Elan Maulhardt and David Lozano return to the varsity squad, and sophomore Landon Thliveris is on the varsity roster.
Both of this season's assistant coaches are PHS alumni. Assistant coach Ryan Emmons returns for the season, and David Carney comes on board.
With 23 players and eight freshmen out for the team, Paonia will focus on building for the future, with a team goal of taking a winning record into league competition in January, said Roeber.
The Eagles played at Olathe Tuesday night. They host their final home game of the year against Coal Ridge this Friday at 7 p.m., and wrap up the year Dec. 15-16 at the First Colorado National Bank in Delta.
The pre-Christmas tournament gives Paonia an opportunity to hone some skills and play two additional games before heading into winter break, said Roeber.