Fans got their first glimpse of the wrestling team from Paonia High School last Friday night and the Eagles gave them a lot to cheer about.
Paonia hosted its first home duals of the year. The Eagles wrestled well and beat Rifle 47-30 in the first match of the night, then defeated John Mall 60-20 in the second dual.
Paonia junior Jaden Miller, wrestling at 195 pounds, pinned his opponent from Rifle in 28 seconds.
"I felt real good," Miller said. "We've been drilling real hard in practice."
Miller is one of six Eagles who gained valuable experience at the state tournament last year, where Paonia finished fourth.
The Eagles were second two years ago after winning the previous three 2A state titles in a row.
"We'll be right near the top or even at the top again this year," Miller said. "We've got a bunch of tough kids. Once we develop a little bit we'll be right in there. We're expected to win everything we go out for.
"It's not expected so much, maybe, but we want to win," he added. "We strive for the top."
Miller faced a far more difficult challenge in his second dual against John Mall's Jason Murphy, who finished second at state last year.
The two grapplers competed in a tough tactical battle that saw Murphy prevail in an 8-2 decision. Murphy was the heavier wrestler as Miller is still working down to 182 pounds, his usual weight.
"Jaden Miller couldn't push through a six-minute match like that last year and you can just see the maturity in him," Eagles coach Andy Pipher said. "Jaden wrestled really good in a hard-fought, six-minute match and he couldn't do that last year so that was awesome. If he continues to improve, he'll be right there in the end."
In the Rifle dual, Paonia senior Trevor Smith pinned his man in 41 seconds at 220 pounds then won by forfeit against John Mall.
Sophomore Sackett Chesnik won by forfeit against Rifle, then beat John Mall's Aaron Brothers by pinfall to win the 138-pound-weight classification.
Senior Eli Etter also had a forfeit win versus Rifle and a pin against John Mall's Angel Prough at 132 pounds.
Eagles senior Garrett Beck had a crazy night, beating Rifle's Talon Cordova in a 16-3 technical fall at 126 pounds. Beck was on the other end of a technical fall against John Mall, losing 15-0 against Jonathan Andreatta.
Freshman Grey Neal got a big win for Paonia when he pinned Rifle's Dillon Tiffany at 138 pounds. Neal got a forfeit victory against John Mall.
Paonia junior Clay Campbell won both his matches at 152 pounds, pinning Rifle's Brian De La Rosa and John Mall's Trystan Estrada.
Sophomore Jesse Burns faced a tough Rifle wrestler at 160 pounds, getting pinned by Maxx Demann in the second round.
Burns recovered nicely and pinned John Mall's Kaleb Rehm in 28 seconds.
"Awesome," Pipher said. "I thought our guys wrestled really well tonight. It's fun to watch the kids and how much they improve. They go from underclassmen and then hit the junior year and just make so much improvement.
"As a coach you have them as a peewees and it's really fun to see them have that maturity now," he added.
Early in the season Pipher just wants his charges to have fun.
"Have fun and win," he said. "Right now it's all practice. Don't be afraid to hit things; don't be afraid to try. A lot of them are doing that. Like Clay Campbell, he hit a nice spin double-leg tonight. Those are things you got to try now and don't be afraid to make mistakes, and then you'll be where you want to be in February.
"Go into the room and improve every day," Pipher added. "If you do that, it will all pan out in the end."
Paonia was at a tournament in Delta last Saturday, where Miller and Smith both won individual titles.
The Eagles are at the prestigious Warrior Classic this weekend in Grand Junction, then have Christmas break.
Paonia's next home dual is against defending region champ Hotchkiss on Jan. 11.