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Underclassmen pose challenge for Eagles

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Photo by Tamie Meck In a pre-season practice Paonia point guard Allison Godwin is pressured to pass around Poppy Lightfoot (14) and Tawny Roberts. With 17 underclassmen, head coach Scott Rienks is adjusting his philosophy this season to a strong defense a

One varsity senior. If a high school coach sticks around long enough, it's bound to happen at some point. After 26 years of coaching basketball, it's Scott Rienks' turn.

Rienks is used to having a lot of experience on the court. In his 11 seasons as Paonia head girls basketball coach, he racked up a 226-45 win-loss record, eight state appearances, two state titles, and four Coach of the Year honors. He has arguably raised the level of competition in the 2A Western Slope League since arriving in Paonia in 2007.

This year, 17 of his 22 players are underclassmen. Of his two returning seniors, one is cleared to play. But he admits he's mellowed a bit over the years. With a lot of raw talent, Rienks said he's changing his philosophy from what he's used in his 26 years of coaching. The focus is on skills, drills, and learning new strategies.

"It was time," he said. "We have to create some stuff now."

Fortunately, he said, this group of dedicated student-athletes is willing to listen. He hasn't heard a single negative comment.

"We're pretty excited about this season," said Rienks ahead of the season-opening games last Friday and Saturday at the Norwood Shootout, where the Eagles defeated both Norwood and Ridgway.

Paonia has four juniors, eight sophomores and nine freshmen on the roster. The one senior, fourth-year varsity player Poppy Lightfoot, scored 14 points in Paonia's 56-34 win over Norwood Friday. Her 20 game points in Saturday's 57-42 win at Ridgway Saturday earned her the Player of the Game award.

Sophomore Tawny Roberts will start at point guard. With seven points, five steals and one assist, she was named player of the game in the 56-34 win over Norwood Friday. This summer, said Rienks, "I was really, really happy with Tawny... Against the big schools, Tawny took care of the basketball really well."

Sophomore Allison Godwin will be Roberts' back-up at point guard.

Also making the varsity team are juniors Paige Fister, Lyla Hayutin-Baril, Carly Horn and Kiley Olson; sophomores Cristina Rankin, Ceylon Carter and Lauren Kiefer; and freshmen Abby Labounty, Larissa Cotten, Paige Roberts and Kaya Crawford.

Freshmen Larissa Cotten, Princessa Mora and Paige Roberts will play junior varsity and suited up for the tournament. "We're trying to get them some playing time and get an idea of what it's like" on varsity, said Rienks.

Senior Taralee Mautz, a three-year varsity player who averaged five points per game last season, is recovering from a volleyball injury. She plans to go into coaching and will sit on the bench next to Rienks and learn as much as she can.

Defense, specifically the press, is the main focus this season, said Rienks. They're working on an old style and a new style of full-court press, and will introduce at least one more and some half-court defense. With the style they plan to play, he admits, it's going to be ugly at times. But that's how players learn. "It might not be a state championship-type atmosphere, but it's going to be a positive atmosphere, and the kids are excited about it. Yeah, obviously we always want to win," he added. But with 17 underclassmen, what they need now is experience that will pay off in the future.

Longtime assistant coaches Brian Mitchem and John Blair return to the program "I walk in the gym and I've got two experienced coaches, and practice goes on as it should," said Rienks.

Paonia hosts Caprock Academy (Grand Junction) at 5:30 Thursday, and Nucla Friday before heading into more competitive games at Olathe Dec. 11 and at home versus 3A Coal Ridge Friday. It faces 3A Cedaredge at the First Colorado National Bank tournament at Delta Dec. 21-22.

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