After losing all five starters and a five-year assistant coach from last season's state champion team, Paonia head basketball coach Scott Rienks said he doesn't know what this season will bring for the Eagles. But with more than two decades of coaching experience and three state titles to his name, Rienks does know a few things.
For one, he said, the new season will bring a different style of coaching to Paonia. "We're going to be a little more disciplined in basketball," said Rienks. "I'm not going to say how good we're going to be, because I don't know. I just know it's a really, really fun group of girls to be around."
So far, so good. The Eagles opened the two-day San Juan Basin/Western Slope League Shootout with wins over Norwood and Ridgway. Paonia allowed its opponents a total of 20 points.
John Blair, a defensive specialist, returns as junior varsity and assistant coach, and Brian Mitchem joins the coaching staff.
Losing assistant coach Brent McRae is tough, said Rienks, but getting to work with Mitchem, head coach of the Paonia track teams, is a plus. "We have a very good rapport," said Rienks, who coached the throwers the past 10 seasons.
The transition to a new team began last summer. For the first time in 10 years Paonia skipped team camps, opting instead to use the time "to make us better as individuals first and not worry about the team," said Rienks. They held three open gyms a week, focused on fundamentals, two-on-two and three-on-three drills, and scrimmaged a couple of teams.
Returning varsity seniors Mckenna Hartigan, Kassidy Rapke and Randi Rapke contributed to Paonia's 25-0 season from the bench. "This year they have to carry the load while other players pick up on some skills," said Rienks.
It's also their year to shine. Palmer, a 6-foot post, played last summer with the boys team. Her role "will be huge this year," said Rienks. "She's going to be really good."
The Rapke twins, who until now played under five all-state players, have an opportunity to show what they can do. "I think they're ready for it," said Rienks.
Seniors Sophia Fischer and Andi Todd started both games last weekend. Todd played at Hotchkiss her freshman and sophomore years before moving to Wyoming her junior year.
This year's juniors include Poppy Lightfoot, Taralee Mautz and Jackie Mora.
Sophomores are Lyla Hayutin-Baril, Carly Horn and Paige Fister from Olathe.
Genevive Fisher and Taneal Mautz also got some time on the court last weekend.
Paonia will have only one more home game before the winter break when it hosts 3A Coal Ridge this Friday at 5:30 p.m.
On Dec. 15-16 it competes at the First Colorado National Bank tournament in Delta. Rienks called the two-day, all Delta County tournament "a barometer to take us into league competition."