This was supposed to be a down year for the Paonia High School wrestling team.
After having its consecutive streak of three straight 2A state titles snapped by Rocky Ford last year and after finishing second to Hotchkiss at regionals for the first time in years, no one expected too much from the Eagles at state this year.
Turns out Paonia had a different plan. As they often do, the Eagles saved their best for last on the mats at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
All eight of the Eagles' wrestlers who qualified for state won at least two matches, senior Bo Pipher capped his second consecutive undefeated season with his third state title and Paonia finished an impressive fourth overall as a team.
"Everyone really stepped up over here," Coach Andy Pipher said Saturday night after winning the title at 145 pounds.
"Everyone we brought won two matches, which is pretty big to have at the state tournament," he added. "They just stepped up and everyone just gave it their all over here."
2A Region 1 competitor Meeker claimed the state title by one point over defending champ Rocky Ford, 144-143. Centauri was next with 132 team points and Paonia took fourth with 107.
Leading the Eagles after Pipher were five other grapplers who finished on the podium after individual competition was complete.
Junior Trevor Smith, who wrestled much of the season at 220 pounds before cutting weight to compete at 195 in regionals and state, took third in his weight class and finished the weekend with a 4-1 record.
Freshman Sackett Chesnik, who like Pipher and Smith won his weight class at the Screamin' Eagle tournament and at regionals, completed his strong season with a 3-2 mark at the state tournament and a fourth place finish at 126 pounds.
Senior Jeramiah Hillman, who returned to the sport after a five-year absence, left the basketball team at Christmas break in order to add depth to the Eagles wrestling squad. He did a lot more than that. Hillman won his first two matches at state in the ultra-tough 170-pound division.
Hillman lost in the semifinals to eventual state champion and friendly foe TJ Shelton of Meeker.
Shelton won his fourth state title and the duo competed against each other in several sports over the course of their careers.
"Jeramiah was wrestling one of the best kids in the state. He went out there and gets in his face and showed a lot of guts. Real proud of Miah," Eagles coach Andy Pipher said. "He was playing basketball before Christmas and I was like come out for wrestling, and he's a state placer. I'm real proud of him."
Hillman wrestled through the consolation round and took home sixth place for the Eagles.
Two Eagles finished 4-2 at state and took home fifth-place medals in their weight classes. Eli Etter (106 pounds) and Jaden Miller (182) each bounced back after first-day losses to earn their spots on the podium.
Garrett Beck (113 pounds) and Clay Campbell (138) were strong in the consolation brackets and each finished the tournament at 2-2.
No one expected such a strong showing from the Eagles.
"We brought eight guys and we're weighing all eight of them in on the last day at state," coach Pipher said. "That's huge. No one's been beat out, everyone has won a match. That's awesome."
In the last five years the Eagles won three state titles and then finished third and fourth. Their coach was delighted with their effort.
"Some years you win when you don't think you're going to and some years you lose when you shouldn't. That's the way it goes," Pipher said. "You just come here and hope the boys perform to their best and that's what it's all about. And they get a good experience. I'm real proud of the boys."