The Paonia Eagles placed seven wrestlers and scored 147 points to finish second at the Class 2A state wrestling tournament. "I thought they peaked at the right time," said first year head coach Nate Wiggins. "They really performed."
Wiggins called the tournament and the season "A team effort... Really, they wrestle for each other as much as anything."
Paonia sent six wrestlers into the semifinal round. Two advanced to the championship round, and the other four wrestled for third place. Because the tournament gets more competitive toward the end, that was impressive, said Wiggins.
Seniors Clay Campbell (145) and Jaden Miller (220) marched Saturday night in the Parade of Champions -- Campbell with his dad, and Miller with his grandfather.
In semifinals Campbell defeated Jared Bauer (35-12) of Crowley County, 5-4. Bauer, who dropped from 152 pounds a week earlier, "was really strong," said Campbell. "He's a lot bigger than I am. I felt a little underpowered but I went out and got points where I could."
Campbell said he disagreed with two stalling calls against him. "That's a lot of weight and sometimes it's hard to move," he said. "I guess the ref thought there was more on my part that I could have done there."
In his 10-1 championship match loss to 45-7 senior Carlos Romo of Rocky Ford, Campbell's only point came on an escape. For Campbell, a four-year state qualifier, this is the first time to place. "It's what I've been dreaming of since freshman year," said Campbell. "Getting a shot at the championship was the goal and the dream. Now it's here and it's real."
A fifth-generation rancher, Campbell becomes the first member of his family to get his name on the "Faded Glory" wrestling wall at Paonia High School.
Miller lost his championship match, 3-2, to undefeated senior Sky Carlson of Soroco. "He gave it a good effort," said Wiggins.
Miller, who was ranked second at 182 pounds for most of the season, first wrestled at 220 at the regional tournament. It was Miller's idea, said Wiggins. He replaced Cyrus Malek-Madani, who suffered a late-season injury, and also made room for freshman brother Anthony to qualify for state at 182. "It just kind of gave our team a better chance," said Wiggins. Anthony didn't place, but scored three points on a consolation match win by fall.
It also worked out well for Miller. In semifinals he pinned Cedaredge junior Taj Van der Linde in 1:17. "I knew I had to be pretty aggressive and use my speed to my advantage," said Miller in wrestling 34-10 Van der Linde.
Four Eagles -- two juniors and two sophomores -- placed third. In wrestling for third, sophomore Grey Neal's match was tied at 7-7 when he pinned Cade Hillman of Wray in 4:44.
"It was a scramble," said Neal, who called Hillman "a really good wrestler. I scrambled better than he did, and that's who gets their hand raised in the end."
Neal said that early in the season he lost a lot of matches by giving up five-point moves. "It's hard to come back from five-point deficits," said Neal. Over winter break he watched videos and worked to clean his mistakes up. In the last two weeks, "All that work paid off."
Sophomore heavyweight Levi Peterson wrestled back to third place after an opening round loss. Peterson won all five of his matches by pin, scoring the most pins in the least amount of time for the tournament. In the third-place match he pinned a Wray wrestler in 38 seconds.
In semifinals, junior Sackett Chesnik (138, 42-4) battled to a 10-8 loss against Burlington, then advanced to the third-place match on a 15-5 win over Dolores Huerta. He finished on a 12-2 win over Keenan Hayes (29-8) of Hayden.
At 170, junior Anthony Felice was seeded 13th and placed third. In his final match Felice pinned Norwood's Austin Overholt, a wrestler he'd lost to by fall at the regional tournament.
Junior Jesse Burns placed fourth on a loss to 32-7 Trent Elliott of Merino. Burns was seeded fifth and upset the number four seed from John Mall in quarterfinals. In semifinals he lost to the No. 1 seed from Rocky Ford.
Sophomore Zeb Etter (126), a two-time state qualifier, and senior Caden Meilner (132) also wrestled at state.
Like his brother, Jaden Miller qualified for state as a freshman, but didn't place. He started wrestling at age 5. "It's been a love/hate relationship. You lose, you hate it, but you just have to keep going," he said. "It teaches you a lot of life lessons."