The Paonia Lady Eagles volleyball team claimed the Region 3 championship and are the first Paonia volleyball team to qualify for state since 1990. Back row, from left, assistant coaches Kriss Allen and Amy Lacey, Shylar Wilson, Susan Nieman, Taylor Plymale, Carson Pipher, Easton Hartigan, Taylor Carsten, Morgan Hartigan, Claire Tracy and head coach Krista Carsten. Front row players are, from left, Ce’rra Carsten and Abby Campbell. The state tournament begins Friday at the Denver Coliseum.For the first time in 22 years, Paonia will be represented at the state volleyball tournament after the Lady Eagles upset Vail Mountain and defeated Dolores to win the 2A Region 3 tournament at Vail on Saturday.
Paonia was coming off three losses a week earlier at the district tournament, including a 3-1 pummeling by Vail Mountain.
As league champions, the Lady Eagles were protected into regionals.
But this time they earned a place at state, opening the tournament with a five-set win over district champion and No. 1 seed Vail Mountain.
This time around the girls played better in just about all departments, said head coach Krista Carsten. Their blocking game was much stronger. They bypassed the taps over the net and went for the hard hits. And after recording only one serving ace against Vail at districts, "They served more aggressively and made their libero work harder."
The Eagles put 94 percent of their serves over the net, including seven aces.
Paonia opened the match with a 25-18 win over the Lady Gore Rangers, then dropped the second and third sets, 20-25, 20-25. After a convincing 25-17 win in the fourth, Paonia was trailing 6-10 in the final set. Carsten called a timeout and asked the girls what they want. They all took a turn at stepping up, said Carsten, and each player had something big to con tribute to the match. "We decided it was time to get serious."
Carson Pipher finished the set with four kills for the 15-11 win.
Ce'rra Carsten had 15 kills, two aces and 15 digs for the match.
Abby Campbell had a season-high six solo blocks and 26 digs, and recorded 17 serve receptions.
Taylor Carsten, who leads the league in aces, served up two and contributed 10 digs.
But the tournament wasn't over. Dolores (17-7 overall, 11-2 San Juan League) had to be dealt with, and the team was drained after defeating the No. 1 team in the region, said Carsten. While it wasn't their best match of the season, the Lady Eagles won in three (25-17, 25-19, 25-22). Pipher had 11 kills and 11 serve receives, and Ce'rra Carsten added 10 kills and five aces.
Easton Hartigan and Ce'rra Carsten combined for 22 of the team's 45 digs.
Also competing at state are Lutheran Parker (24-0, defending state champions), Swink (22-2), Simla (25-0), Akron (24-1), Rye (20-4), Fowler (18-7), Resurrection Christian (18-6), Byers (19-5), Yuma (16-9), Sangre de Cristo (22-3), and Telluride (18-6). While in the past there have been eight teams at state, this year there will be 12.
Paonia (22-4) hasn't faced any of the other teams on the court, and has only seen Telluride play at the Montrose tournament. Regardless of seeding, they can't take any team for granted. "There are 12 solid teams in there," said Carsten. "We're going to have to play tough no matter what."