Pressure D will be on display when Eagles, Lions meet
The press is coming. Full-court. In your face. Relentless.
It’s the way eighth-seeded Paonia plays. And it’s the way top-seeded Lutheran plays.
So, when they face each other at Colorado State-Pueblo’s Massari Arena at 4 p.m. today in a Class 2A state girls basketball quarterfinal, the one with the most grace under pressure stands to be the one still in contention for a state title.
Both teams boast athletes, but Paonia’s lineup is pint-sized and relies on quickness. Lutheran (21-1) has some serious size, with 6-foot Cara Thomas at the front of its press, and the Lions have several more players standing 5-10 and 5-9.
The Eagles faced other good presses, such as Meeker’s, and the Cowboys handed Paonia (19-5) three of its losses.
“Meeker may be a little faster (than Lutheran),” Eagles coach Scott Rienks said, “but they don’t have the height like that.”
Meanwhile, Lutheran coach Mark Duitsman knows what awaits the Lions: “A very active defense. They’re well-coached. They’re formidable.”
Both coaches speak of needing to handle the other’s press as priority No. 1. If the Eagles get into their half-court offense, Rienks will preach patience.
“It’s not taking the first shot,” he said, “it’s taking the best shot.”
If the Lions get past Paonia’s press, Duitsman said they will try to strike an inside-outside balance. After shooting 3-pointers galore last year, when Lutheran was the No. 2 seed and lost a state semifinal, they make it a point to use their size inside.
“We don’t have to keep that height inside,” he added. “We can put it on the perimeter, too.”
Lutheran made 63 fewer 3-pointers this season, but they still made 87, with sophomore Kristen Vigil sinking 50.
Both teams spread out their scoring. Six players average seven or more points per game for the Lions, led by junior Kaleigh Paplow with 12.5 per game. Five players average five points per game or better for Paonia, led by senior Carson Pipher at about 12 points per game.
The Eagles’ offense suffered a tough loss, though, in the regional final when senior shooting guard Braiden Clement tore her anterior-cruciate ligament, ending her season.
It’s one more obstacle in what is always an uphill battle, Rienks said of winning a state title. He knows from experience, having guided the Eagles to the 2A state championship in 2010 and a state runner-up finish in 2009. Plus, in 2012 the Eagles entered the 2A state tourney with the No. 1 seed, but they lost in the semifinals to Lutheran, which finished second.
Lutheran earned the No. 1 seed this year, and the Lions’ lone loss was in the 3A/2A Metropolitan League against Holy Family, Class 3A’s top seed.
Forget the seeds, both coaches said.
“We don’t take anything for granted,” said Duitsman, whose program is making its fourth straight state appearance but has yet to win the title.
He also has the utmost respect for Paonia’s program. Duitsman said he’s been coaching the Lions for nine years, and during his first few years he attended the state tournament as a student, learning what he could from the state’s best programs. He said Paonia was one of those programs.
Rienks said Paonia has developed the mentality during his seven years as head coach that it can compete against anyone.
“There’s just a belief we can win,” he said.
Pipher said as much, adding the Eagles haven’t peaked yet, and they plan to play their best at state.
“We have nothing to lose,” she said. “We’re going to go play and have fun.”