Paonia girls win AAU championship
The Paonia Lady Eagles knew their strengths all season were defense and experience.
Sunday, the Eagles rode those key points to a 30-23 victory in the championship game of the Mesa County Junior Women’s Basketball Association 7th/8th grade league over the Fruita Mercury at Grand Junction High School.
“They have been together since the fourth grade, so they work together well on the court,” Paonia assistant coach Travis Spencer said. “Today, I don’t know if you can pinpoint any one thing, but they played great defense. We were able to take away their key player by using four different girls on her defensively.”
The key player for the Mercury was Lauren LaBonde, who Paonia head coach Robert Reid said the team put an emphasize on shutting down. LaBonde had a good day rebounding the ball but managed only two points on two free throws.
“They are a well coached team and that (LaBonde) is a good player,” Reid said. “But our girls did a great job of sticking with her.”
Although neither team had a great first half offensively, the Eagles were able to fight their way to a 11-6 halftime lead. Reid said the Eagles made a halftime adjustment to keep the momentum and began putting pressure on the Mercury.
The Eagles Annavah Kropp had a relatively quite first half, scoring three points but exploded in the third quarter for eight points including two 3-pointers.
“At halftime we told Annavah that she would have a mismatch, so she would need to step up and take the shots,” Reid said. “I told her they don’t know about you, so you need to step up and she did.”
Kropp is an eighth grader and said winning the championship her final year before high school was a nice way to cap four years of hard work.
“It was really awesome,” Kropp said. “We never thought we could make it this far, but the team spirit was great.”
Kropp led all scorers with 11 points. Chelsy Reed added six and Abby Cambell had four for the Eagles.
The championship went to the Eagles, but the Mercury put up a great effort in a game that was never out of reach. Fruita was able to cut the lead to 26-21 with less than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, but didn’t have enough left to make the final push.
Chloe Brown led Fruita with nine points and Vanessa Herrera added eight.
“We had a very successful season with only four eighth graders on the floor,” Fruita coach Paul Brown said. “The girls just ran out of gas, and we missed a lot of makeable shots, but that it is part of the game. We are very proud of this group.”