Paonia girls hope fast-break style leads to another title

Their motto is: “Just roll with it.”

And my, how the Paonia girls basketball team rolls. They open games in a full-court press, they fill quarters with fast-breaking, and it’s all helped the No. 1 Eagles (18-1) become hopeful of earning another crown to go with their 2010 Class 2A state title.

The “rolling” continues at 6 p.m. today in the semifinals of the Class 2A-District 5 girls basketball tournament at West Grand High School when Paonia plays Hayden (13-5).

With a win, Paonia will play the winner of Meeker (14-4) and Rangely (12-7), who meet today in a 3 p.m. semifinal.

The championship is at 2 p.m. on Saturday at West Grand High School.

On the boys side, Meeker(18-1) has a 14-game winning streak heading into today’s semifinal against Paonia (7-13) at West Grand High School.

Cooper Smith is averaging 18.8 points for Meeker, the 1A-2A Western Slope League Champion.

The boys championship is 3:30 p.m. Saturday at West Grand.

Paonia girls coach Scott Rienks is in his fifth season as the Eagles’ head coach. He coached at De Beque for 14 years before coming to Paonia.

Paonia, which did not get past regionals last season, typically rotates 10 players and Rienks sends in a fresh set of subs about every three minutes.

The Eagles run “The System,” a run-and-gun style of basketball attributed to Loyola Marymount coach Paul Westhead in the late-1980s.

“We want to get shots within six or seven seconds,” Rienks said.

Rienks has long given up telling his girls during practice to run “down and back” sprints. Instead, he lets them run The System until they’re dragging.

The Eagles are averaging 67 points per game, although not one player is averaging double-digits.

A rush of layups and jumpers come from anyone.

And the players labeled by position in The System as a number from one to five (one being a point guard, and five a center, etc.), streak down the court systematically, in various directions, filling gaps in a style Paonia senior point guard Jessica Altman has found riveting.

Actually, she just rolls with it.

“It’s a lot of fun,” said Altman, who is averaging 8 points and 3.1 assists. “We don’t think about it. If it’s there, do it. If not, find something else.”

The style is a bit merciless as well.

“When we slow it down, that’s where teams can come back on us,” Rienks said. “The girls are relentless; they really get after it well. We can have a lot of foul trouble from being aggressive. If we’re fouling on the press, that’s fine. Fouling in a half-court set is not fine.”

Paonia will play a Hayden squad with two girls who are a tick over 6 feet tall.

And the Eagles, if they have a weakness, is their lack of height.

But the Paonia plan remains simple: Wear them out and, of course, just roll with it.


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