The Paonia volleyball team will travel to Meeker this week to compete in the Region C tournament after placing third Saturday at the district tournament.
After opening Friday with a 3-1 district win over Plateau Valley, Paonia shocked third-seeded Vail Mountain with a three-set, 26-24, 25-22, 25-23 win, eliminating Vail from the tournament and guaranteeing the Eagles a regional playoff berth.
The win was sweetened by the fact that a week earlier Paonia ended the regular season on a 3-0 loss at Vail Mountain. The game marked the third straight day of competition for Paonia, which a day earlier battled to a 3-1 loss against Meeker.
In the third set, Vail took a four-point lead on kills by junior power hitter Sarah Evans, but gave the serve and point to Paonia on an error. Paonia pulled within two points following a long rally. Evans increased the lead to three again, but again lost the serve on an out-of-bounds hit.
Following two back-row kills by Evans, Paonia trailed, 21-20. It took a 22-21 lead on a Vail net violation, then held on to the serve, winning the game on a monster kill shot by senior Mckenna Palmer.
Head coach Karla Head said that after the loss at Vail the team changed up its serve receive by ensuring that its best passers, Randi Rapke, ranked 14th in the state in digs, and Palmer, currently fifth in the state in hitting and 10th in kills, were positioned to receive serves.
This was not a matter of Vail Mountain overlooking a lower seed, said Head. "Not at all. Vail Mountain did a great job. But when we completely changed our serve receive and how we receive the ball, in four days, that makes a big difference."
"It was a rough week of practice," said Head. "We did a lot of serve receiving and we did a lot of hitting," and they adjusted their rotation. Players were frustrated, "But they showed a lot of grit, and I'm super proud of them."
Setters also took every opportunity to dish the ball to Palmer.
On day two Paonia lost to top-seeded Rangely, 18-25, 21-25, 24-26, then lost in straight sets (13-25, 18-25, 17-25) to No. 2 Meeker. In the championship game Meeker upset Rangely with a 3-1 win and to win the district title, allowing the Cowboys to host the regional tournament this Saturday.
Paonia is now 16-7 overall for the season. It faces 20-3 Meeker at 11 a.m. Saturday. Ridgway (15-7) will also compete at Meeker. The winner automatically advances to the state tournament on Nov. 10-11.
To complete the tournament brackets, an additional four teams will be chosen to qualify for this year's state competition based on their Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) ranking.