The wrestling teams from Paonia and Hotchkiss went to the Warrior Classic last weekend and got a look at some of the best competition in the state before they retired to rest during the Christmas break.
The Warrior is considered one of the top tournaments of the season and this year featured 38 teams at Central High School in Grand Junction.
While many view the Warrior as a preview of the state tournament in Denver in February, Paonia head coach Andy Pipher doesn't see it that way.
"You have every classification from a lot of different states," Pipher said. "To me it's more like a big tournament."
Paonia finished seventh overall at the Warrior and second among small schools.
"Some of those kids going into that big tournament only have seven or eight practices coming out of football," Pipher said. "I could tell they were wore out and tired, but still I thought they wrestled better than they did the weekend before in Delta. We had a lot of kids that won a lot of matches."
Junior Trevor Smith continued his strong start to the season for Paonia. Smith won his first two matches by pin before Moffat County's Stelios Peroulis beat him 7-1 in the quarterfinals.
Smith rallied and came back on Saturday to win third place at 220 pounds, pinning Norwood's Ethan Barnes.
"Trevor Smith ended up third and I thought wrestled as good as I've ever seen him wrestle," Pipher said.
Senior Bo Pipher continued his dominant start to the season with four wins by pin to advance to the finals at 145 pounds, where he defeated Jair Flores from Pueblo Centennial in a major decision, 13-0.
Pipher is 16-0 on the season, with 15 of those wins by pin. He was named the outstanding wrestler in the lower weights at the Warrior for the second year in a row.
His coach said that Paonia's mindset doesn't change in a big tournament where it may face opponents from bigger schools and classes.
"They've been wrestling against these guys their whole life," Pipher said. "They've been coming here for peewee tournaments. They know these guys. They wrestle the same kid whether he goes to a small school or big school so nothing changes for us."
Jaden Miller had a strong tournament for the Eagles, winning his first two matches by pin before falling in a 12-2 major decision to Travis MacGregor of Montrose in the quarterfinals.
Four different Eagles grapplers won their first-round matches by pin before falling in the second round. Gabe Ferguson (120 pounds), Clay Campbell (138), Nick Brewer (160) and Tim Helmer (170) all posted victories by pin.
Five Eagles did not make it out of the ultra-competitive first round. Eli Etter (113 pounds), Caden Meilner (126), Sackett Chesnik (132), Anthony Felice (152) and big man Luis Chavez (285) all lost their first matches at the Warrior.
"Team effort was great," Pipher said. "We ended up second as a team in the small schools, so I was impressed with that. A lot of young kids won a lot of matches at the Warrior, so that was good."
Christmas break comes at a good time for the Eagles.
"Our conditioning is still not where we want it to be but we'll make a hard push in January," Pipher said. "We'll give them some time off, they need a break. A lot of those kids have been in practice since August and haven't had a break at all. I think we'll make a good push in January and we'll finish just fine."
Bulldogs Battle at Warrior
Hotchkiss High School came to the Warrior ranked No. 5 in 2A and the Bulldogs continued to develop into what looks like a formidable force on the mat.
Six Bulldogs won their first matches and lost in the second round. Sergio Campos (106 pounds), Colton Cordova (113), Chris Lovato (120), Chase Hiatt (138), Kale Litzelman (170) and Conner Collins (285) all advanced to the second round for Hotchkiss.
Four matmen from Hotchkiss won their first two matches before bowing out in the quarterfinals. Colton Hall (126 pounds), Colton DeLuzio (132), Austin Todd (152) and Wade Katzdorn (160) each recorded two pins for the Bulldogs.
At 195 pounds, Cedaredge's Tré LaBossiere pinned Bulldog Devin Curtis in the first round. LaBossiere went on to post another pin before losing in the quarterfinals at the Warrior.
Hotchkiss and Paonia resume their long rivalry on Jan. 7 at Hotchkiss, the first dual for both squads after the Christmas break.
"They're really tough," Pipher said. "Richard (Flores) is doing a great job with those kids down there. They're filling a full lineup. If we beat them, you know it will be a lot of luck and getting kids in the right weights. I think they feel the same way."
Both the Eagles and Bulldogs will be able to learn a lot about themselves after the big dual at Hotchkiss.
"Right now they're two or three weeks ahead of us in practice. They have the edge on us right now," Pipher said. "Their kids will probably practice more than us over break because our kids need some time off. Richard will have them ready to go. It will be a great dual."