Paonia’s block party leads to Class 2A regional crown
PAONIA — A sign reading “block party” bobbed up and down behind the Paonia High School volleyball team’s bench Saturday as the Eagles battled for the Class 2A Region 2C title.
None of the front three for the Eagles are six feet tall, but they demonstrated their leaping ability in the regional championship against Nucla.
Paonia picked up six blocks in the first game on the way to topping Nucla 25-19, 25-22, 25-9. With the win, the Eagles (25-0) secured a spot in the Class 2A state tournament Nov. 8-9 at the Denver Coliseum.
Paonia also found its rhythm offensively. Despite a few errors and a slow start, the Eagles’ outside hitters started rolling midway through the second game.
“We run a quick offense, and we started to pull blockers,” senior outside hitter Carson Pipher said. “If they set up in the middle, we can set it to the outside. It works so well because we’re just a well-rounded team. When our offense starts hitting, it gets fun. The crowd starts getting into it, and our adrenaline starts pumping. It’s just fun.”
Coach Krista Carsten said the Eagles were hindered by errors in the second game, and that’s something she will be mindful of heading into state.
“They’ve kind of done that all along,” Cartsen said. “We give up a lot of points on unforced errors, and we hit a lot of balls out of bounds. But I think the girls know when they need to regroup and get it done.”
When Paonia fell behind 9-4 in the second game, the Eagles regrouped and did exactly what their coach expected them to do.
Led by Pipher and Easton Hartigan, a Paonia team that seemed flustered and out of rhythm found new life, ripping off runs of three points and six points to take a 23-22 lead.
The Eagles closed out the game two points later.
In the third game, the Eagles left no doubt about who was the best team at the regional tournament. Paonia took a 13-2 lead and never looked back, with the game ending on a penalty point against Nucla for using the wrong server.
It was a move Carsten said had her players begging the referees to allow a replay.
“They didn’t want the game to end like that,” Carsten said. “But it’s a nice win.”
The Eagles head to the Class 2A state tournament, where their lack of size could derail their perfect record.
But Carsten said when her team watched the finals last year, they knew they were capable of playing against top-tier teams.
Pipher said the Eagles were excited to go to state last year. This year, the goal is a gold volleyball — the trophy awarded to the state champion.
“It’s really relaxing this year,” Pipher said. “We want to take it to the next level and win, of course.”
Cartsen said a deep run in the state tournament would further legitimize volleyball on the Western Slope.
“Western Slope volleyball hasn’t truly been established at the state level,” Carsten said. “I don’t know if the Eastern Slope truly respects us. I know Gunnison went in last year and finished as a runner-up, but when we get there we’re going to have to play.”