A changing of the guard in Paonia hasn't altered the gathering of wrestlers from around the state, and out of the state, for an annual event which traditionally draws some of the best wrestlers who want to compete against someone they don't often see.
Gone is long-time Paonia wrestling coach Andy Pipher and entering is former Paonia High School wrestler, and assistant, Nate Wiggins. Wiggins was a three-year state qualifier for the Eagles who wrestled collegiately for Western State College (Western State University). "I was on some good teams at Western. I wrestled five years (redshirted)," noted Wiggins.
Wiggins has put his time in and is excited to take the reins of a powerful and respected program at Paonia High School. Wiggins also recalls when he had his first association with Pipher as he entered the high school scene. According to Wiggins, "Coach Pipher was in his second year when I started."
Although winning is an important aspect of wrestling Wiggins wants to stress the importance of a team concept. Athletes will be challenged to fight for the team and what it can do together as opposed to wrestling comfortably without putting too much stress on oneself. Coaches will continue to stress doing what it takes to win the close matches in order to achieve a team win.
A number of coaches return for another season at Paonia. Hopefully, notes Wiggins, there will be coaches who can help individuals who need extra guidance to manage their season with success.
Not everyone on a wrestling team can go undefeated, win a state title for four years or even qualify for a state meet. Having the ability to make athletes' efforts self motivating will be the challenge for the Eagles' staff, including Eric Neal, Lukas Wiggins, Mike Reedy and Josh Burns.
Wiggins' tenure with Paonia's wrestling team, and the existence of a well-prepared coaching staff, makes his transition from an assistant to the head coach's position an exciting undertaking.
"We have a good, young team with veterans from 138 through the heavyweight ranks," noted Wiggins.
"Our goals, and philosophy, will continue to go out and win state," says Wiggins. "We are returning several state qualifiers with good incoming freshmen who will fill the lower weights."
One of the things that Wiggins knows to be a success story is his involvement with the middle school program. By guiding those athletes through a process of training which stresses the Eagles' core fundamentals will pay off when they enter high school. "You fall in love with the kids. I started working with them right after I graduated," quoted Wiggins.
This year's Summer Duals marked seven years of hosting the event. There were 21 teams, a number which reflected one of the lowest turnouts since starting the Summer Duals. The quality of teams,and competitors, however, did not decrease as Colorado's third ranked Poudre (5A Fort Collins) Impalas, Pomona (5A Arvada) Panthers and 5A Grand Junction were in attendance this past weekend.
Scottsbluff, Neb., also sent a team to the two-day wrestling event.