Guess who? This team is athletic and defensive-minded
Hoops pop quiz: Which Western Slope high school has reached the state basketball tournament the past three seasons, finished as runner-up last year and began this season as the No. 1 ranked team in both the Denver Post and MaxPreps.com polls?
Need a clue?
This team finished with only two losses last season and returns eight seniors this season.
For opponents in Class 2A girls basketball, the answer is easy. It’s the athletic, defensive-minded Paonia Eagles, favored to win the Class 2A state championship this season.
“We haven’t talked about it, but it’s in their mind,” third-year coach Scott Rienks said. “This year’s motto is nobody outworks us.”
The Eagles entered last year’s state tournament as the No. 2 seed and made it to the championship game before losing to No. 1 Wray 46-35. Paonia returns the core of last year’s team, including starters Johanna Reed, Jordyn Rienks and Shelby Campbell. Grayson Pipher and Leslie Trujillo will assume larger roles this year and have played well so far. Pipher, who was a second-team all state selection last season despite never starting a game, is leading the Eagles in scoring.
“We are a high-intensity defensive team,” Rienks said. “What makes us so good is we are so deep. We have a nine-man rotation, but we have the ability to go 10-11 deep.”
The Eagles will be tested again in a tough 2A Western Slope League that includes returning state qualifier Hayden, Rangely Meeker. But before Paonia even gets to that point, the Eagles are playing a difficult nonleague schedule that features Class 3A teams Olathe, Gunnison and Cedaredge.
The Eagles have had one slip-up, losing 48-35 to Olathe, but Rienks said it was a good experience for his team.
“Not taking anything away from Olathe, but we didn’t come out and do the things we need to do,” Rienks said. “We got out-worked last Tuesday.”
Paonia begins league play Jan. 5 after the holiday break against Vail Christian.
“There are going to be a lot of challenges in the league,” Rienks said. “But we are just going to try and get better one game at a time.”
The Bulldogs wrestling team won the seven-team Sheridan tournament in Denver, with 13 wrestlers finishing in the top three. Daniel Salazar (119 pounds) and Joey Dupre (285 pounds) won their weight class.
best girls team in state
ThunderRidge is the top-ranked team in 5A girls basketball and was in Fruita last weekend for the Wildcat Invite. The Grizzlies went 3-0 and won all of their games by double digits behind the strength of Carlie Needles and Brooke Jelniker. Fruita Monument didn’t play the Grizzlies, but was tested by a top-tier team earlier in the season in a 71-39 loss to second-ranked Monarch. Fruita Monument coach Dan Schmalz had the opportunity to see both teams and weighed in on which team might be better.
“Between those two, it’s a tough one,” Schmalz said. “Monarch is more solid one through eight, but ThunderRidge has a couple of outstanding players. I’ll say this, they are both very well-coached.”