Soroco hopes to remove the pain from Paonia
Steamboat Springs — The Soroco girls basketball has long struggled against the elite Paonia program. After one of their best regular seasons ever, the Rams are hoping they can change that Friday.
It wasn’t just playing Paonia seven years ago that was difficult, said David Bruner, then and now the coach of the Soroco High School girls basketball team.
It could be difficult even watching Soroco play Paonia.
The Rams had some good players then, even some decent teams back then, but Paonia has long had a habit of forcing teams to meltdown, to crumble in the face of their intense, full-court pressure.
“It was bad,” Bruner said. “It wasn’t very fun. It wasn’t very easy to watch.”
Soroco and Paonia used to see each other at least once a season in the Western Slope Conference, but the two schools were on opposite sides of a divisional split this season and haven’t played since a game Paonia won, 48-33, in January 2014.
That will change Friday when the two teams meet at 3 p.m. at Cedaredge High School in the Class 2A District 5 tournament.
The Rams are hoping the reunion will bear little in common with the ugly games of old.
“Eventually, it helped out,” Bruner said of the rough lessons learned in those games. “It wasn’t easy watching that happen to your girls, that’s for sure, but now we’re one of those teams in the upper echelon.”
Soroco earned its way into the four-team district championship bracket by winning its half of the Western Slope Conference — the first league title for the team in nearly 20 years.
The Rams, 17-2, enter the weekend riding as high as they have in decades.
Still, beating Paonia, 15-4, is far from a sure thing. The Eagles finished second in their division and promise to bring the same deep, quick, maddening team that frustrated Soroco for so long.
It will fall on the Rams’ ball handlers to manage that press.
Soroco lost one of its primary guards several weeks ago when sophomore DaKota Bruner went down with a season-ending knee injury. Since then, responsibility has shifted, perhaps the biggest bump in minutes coming to sophomore Morgan George.
“Her overall health is a little better than some other girls we have right now,” Bruner said of George. “She’s doing a good job of stepping up and helping out more.”
It won’t just fall to Soroco’s guards, either. Senior Jessica Rossi and junior Briana Peterson, both forwards, are the team’s two leading scorers, and its most veteran players.
They will be essential Friday.
“Their size helps,” Bruner said. “They’ll be able to see over the traps a little easier than some of the guards.”
To prepare, Soroco has been practicing five players against eight defenders.
The game isn’t a do-or-die for either team. The top two teams from each half of the Western Slope will all be in Cedaredge. Vail Christian and Cedaredge also play Friday to set up Saturday games between Friday’s winners (2 p.m. Saturday) and losers (11 a.m.)
First or fourth, they’re all guaranteed to advance to regional tournament action March 6 and 7, along with the winner of a West Grand vs. Meeker match-up.
Nevertheless, it could be a telling weekend for Soroco. For years, they were on the wrong end of lopsided scores against teams like Paonia. They hope to prove Friday that things have changed.
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