The Paonia Eagles placed 12 wrestlers and scored 203.5 points to finish second Saturday at the 2A Region 1 tournament.
Senior Clay Campbell was one of three Paonia wrestlers to go undefeated. Wrestling at 145, Campbell is seeded second in state after winning the title match against Jace Peebles of Hotchkiss (27-15) by a 7-2 decision. This season, Campbell has won 35 matches by fall.
Two sophomores also went undefeated. In the first-place match, Grey Neal (152, 34-9) won by fall (4:44) over senior Colton Hoerr of Cedaredge, and at heavyweight, Levi Peterson won by fall (1:30) over Derek Sanchez of Cedaredge.
Brothers Jaden Miller and Anthony Miller both placed in the top four. Jaden Miller, a two-time state placer, wrestled at 220 after being ranked second all season at 182. In the championship match Miller lost by decision to undefeated Sky Carlson of Soroco.
Three-time state qualifier Sackett Chesnik (138) had a heartbreaker 4-0 championship loss to rival Tannen Kennedy (40-4) of Meeker.
The third place round wasn't too kind to Paonia. Placing fourth were sophomore Zeb Etter (126), who had the only technical fall in the tournament; junior Anthony Felice (170), who pinned his opponent in a wrestle back to hold onto his state berth; and freshman Anthony Miller, who also finished fourth after a one-point win in a wrestle back against West Grand.
Two wrestlers had big wins on the way to a state qualification. At 160, junior Jesse Burns was seeded third upset the No. 2 seed, Cedaredge senior Jared Hulteen, in semifinals. With 45 seconds remaining and the scoreboard showing Burns ahead, 12-8, officials stopped the match to check the score.
"So much was going on during that third period," said Burns, and a lot was going on in his mind, including his earlier loss by fall to Hulteen. Knowing they would meet at regionals, Burns studied Hulteen. All he'd trained for this season came down to this moment, said Burns
When the match resumed, Burns was up, 12-11 and knew he was in Hulteen's head. "I just did what I had to do," said Burns, who rode out the final seconds for the win. "I just wanted to beat this kid so bad because I've never had the opportunity to go into the championship," said Burns. "I needed to make it to state."
The win secured his trip to state. Assistant coach Josh Burns was coaching another match, but was really happy for him, said the younger Burns. "We've been talking about this moment and making it to state."
At 132, senior Caden Meilner was seeded eighth and placed fourth, marking the greatest seed-place difference of the tournament. In quarterfinals Meilner faced No. 1-seeded Garrett Frantz of Meeker and was losing and on his back when Frantz pulled Meilner back on top of him. Meilner leaned in with all his might, feeling Frantz's shoulders go back on the mat when the referee signaled the fall at 4:27.
Placing sixth were freshman Reagan Todd (106), and senior Poncho Lopez (195).
Meilner could be a wildcard for Paonia. After wrestling his freshman and sophomore years, he switched last season to basketball. With no one wrestling at 132, first-year head coach Nate Wiggins approached Meilner, and in late December he began splitting time between wrestling and basketball. Meilner said both coaches have been very supportive.
A week ago, he had to make a decision. It was a good one, said Meilner, who has also competed in state track, basketball and cross country. "I think it's the best state event of all the sports."
"He's tough," said Wiggins after Meilner beat a top-four wrestler in January. With Cedaredge, Paonia and Hotchkiss ranked two, three and five in the state, Wiggins said Meilner could be a game changer. Any points he can earn this week could make a difference in where the top teams finish.