Walk into the wrestling room behind the gym at Paonia High School and instantly you can tell: the Eagles are back.
Even though Paonia had its streak of 2A state championships halted at three last year after the Eagles finished third, enthusiasm and energy burst through the room as the grapplers returned for the 2015 campaign last week.
As always, the source of that enthusiasm and energy was veteran coach Andy Pipher, who said that nothing changes even if the Eagles aren't the defending champs this year.
"Nothing changes. It's just practice," Pipher said.
While the Eagles ran laps around the mat and jumped rope and limbered up for practice, Pipher talked about the wrestlers he's got to work with this season.
"Trevor Smith is ranked No. 1 right now. The No. 2 kid is from Norwood/Nucla and they've been back and forth, and there's a couple of other tough kids in that bracket," Pipher said. "Trevor will be our 220 pounder. He's an upperclassman this year and that makes a huge difference, going from sophomore to junior year is always a huge step.
"Jaden Miller is returning; tough, state qualifier last year, sophomore; he'll be a 182 pounder. Cyrus Malek-Madani is a great kid who just keeps improving every year. He'll probably be our 195 pounder. Nick Brewer is returning from state last year; he'll be our 160 pounder.
"Our 152 pounder will be Anthony Felice, a freshman. At 170 is gonna be Tim Helmer, then we'll have Bo (Pipher) at 145. At 138 will be Clay Campbell, a returning qualifier from last year who won a match or two at the state tournament.
"At 132 and 126 this weekend (at the Maverick Duals) we're going to split the matches between two kids. We've got Caden Meilner and Sackett Chesnik, they're going to fill those weights. We'll move them back and forth and then next week we'll have some wrestle-offs and see who's going to wrestle where.
"At 120 is Gabe Ferguson, then at 113 is Eli Etter, a homeschool kid who wrestled for me for two years in junior high. He's just a great kid. Louis Chavez will be our heavyweight once he gets in wrestling shape."
Pipher added that at 106 the Eagles might have an open weight, but he is actively recruiting and might get someone to fill that slot.
Paonia finished third to Rocky Ford and Meeker last year at state.
"We're ranked third in the state right now," Pipher said. "We've got a lot of kids out here. I'm really surprised to see so many. I'm real happy with the numbers for as small of a school as we are."
A constant storyline this year will be senior Bo Pipher's pursuit of his third individual state championship. He'll be going for the title at 145 pounds after finishing first at 132 and 138 and as a runner up at 126.
Bo Pipher competed in a prestigious national tournament in North Carolina during the off season. He won his first three matches, then lost to the eventual winner in a great match, then wrestled again 20 minutes later and lost in overtime.
"He wrestled really tough and did a great job," his father and coach said.
Other changes in the wrestling room have a new coach on board. Brad Anderson, an alternate on the 1988 Olympic wrestling team, will help Pipher lead the Eagles this year.
"He's going to really help our big guys," Pipher said. "We're just thrilled to have him here."
This season is unusual for Pipher, and he's not sure how it's going to work out on the mat.
"It's gonna be a different team. I'm not sure exactly what to expect," Pipher said. "Of course we want to win everything, but it's gonna be a little tougher with a younger team. But you know we don't rebuild, we just reload."
Among the toughest competitors Pipher expects to see at state this season are Rocky Ford, Meeker, Hotchkiss and Centauri.
"There's a lot of great teams out there," Pipher said. "It's gonna be a battle. Hopefully this year we can be the ones pulling off the upset instead of the ones getting upset."
Bulldogs Have Bite
The Hotchkiss wrestlers finished in 9th place last year at the 2A state meet and seven of those grapplers return this season to lead the Bulldogs.
Third-year coach Richard Flores has an experienced team to lead. Senior Colton Cordova will wrestle at the 106 slot.
At 132 is senior Austin Todd, who finished fifth last year and is a three-time state qualifier.
Fourth-place finisher Wade Katzdorn looks to have a strong season at 160. Junior Parker Katzdorn will wrestle for the Bulldogs at 170, and two-time state qualifier Conner Collins will be at 285.
Junior Colton Hall will fill the slot at 120 for Hotchkiss and Colton DeLuzio, a junior, will compete at 126.
Other Bulldogs expecting a big season on the mat are Chris Lovato (113), Kale Litzelman (152), Devin Curtis (195), Sergio Campos (106), Owen Mattison (138), Joe Nault (220), Kayden Owens (152) and Chase Hiatt (120).
Paonia and Meeker joined Olathe as the three teams to finish 5-0 at the Maverick Duals this past weekend at Colorado Mesa University.
Bo Pipher (145), Trevor Smith (220), Caden Meilner (126 and 132) and Gabe Ferguson (120) all posted perfect 5-0 individual records at the tournament. Pipher won all five of his matches by pin.
Four other Eagles posted 4-1 individual records: Cyrus Malek-Madani (195), Nick Brewer (160), Anthony Felice (152) and Sackett Chesnik (132 and 126).
Hotchkiss finished 4-1 as a team in the duals and got perfect 5-0 records from four different Bulldogs: Conner Collins (285), Wade Katzdorn (152), Colton Hall (138) and Sergio Campos (106).
Local fans can get a glimpse of the Bulldogs for the first time this Friday night at the Hotchkiss gym, where the Bulldogs will host a Tri Meet against Moffat County and Rangely. The matches are slated for 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. starts.
Paonia hosts two duals this week. The Eagles face Palisade on Thursday and grapple the always-tough Buena Vista Demons on Friday. Both duals start at 6 p.m.