Eagles sweep opener in 2A state volleyball
DENVER — The Paonia High School volleyball team was navigating through previously uncharted territory as it embarked on its quest for the Class 2A state championship.
It has been 22 years since the Eagles last reached the state tournament. It has been markedly longer since Paonia claimed a victory at the state tournament. Still, none of that meant the Eagles stepped onto the floor at the Denver Coliseum on Friday afternoon completely lacking any big-game experience.
Paonia’s two seniors, Ce’rra Carsten and Abby Campbell, were part of the Eagles’ girls basketball team as freshmen when they captured the 2010 state title. The basketball team also reached the Final Four last year. Much of that big-stage experience came in handy Friday as the Eagles recorded a historic victory.
Paonia opened pool play in the 2A state tournament with a sweep of Sangre de Cristo, recording a 26-24, 25-20, 25-18 win that marked the first state-tournament victory for the Eagles’ program since 1983.
The victory sets up a winner-take-all showdown for the seventh-seeded Eagles on Saturday morning against No. 2-seeded Swink. Both clubs defeated Sangre de Cristo in pool play Friday.
“Coming here and having a little bit of state experience, it helped me and calmed me down. My freshman sister was scared to death,” Carsten said. “I’m hoping this sets the bar for the rest of the girls. I love all these girls, and we have really come together as a family more than a team. Hopefully this sets the bar for the next couple of years.”
Outlasting Sangre de Cristo for the wild 26-24 victory in the first game appeared to settle the nerves of the Eagles, who responded admirably in every tight situation the rest of the way. Paonia broke an 18-18 tie late in the second game set by outscoring the Thunderbirds 7-2 the rest of the way to earn the win.
The Eagles proved to be similarly sturdy in the third game. Facing a slight deficit roughly halfway through the set, Paonia ripped off five consecutive points to reassert control, ultimately outscoring Sangre de Cristo 14-6 after the Thunderbirds had taken a 12-11 edge.
“Being here is huge, and I told them this is the first win since ‘83,” Paonia coach Krista Carsten said. “We’ve been trying to do a lot of firsts this year. They’re a great group of kids, and they play so well together. They’re competitors.
“We didn’t have very many service errors in the first game, but we did in game two and game three, and I think that was just because we had the confidence to be more aggressive. You’re going to have those errors. But that’s OK. We earned a lot of points on kills and a lot of points on aces, and that’s good.”