At the Warrior Classic, where even the best wrestlers in the state can get beaten, and up-and-coming wrestlers can gain invaluable experience against athletes they might otherwise never see, victories often come in small measure: not getting pinned against a top-ranked wrestler, winning a consolation match or two, or scoring against a state champion from a bigger school.
Last Saturday night the Paonia Eagles celebrated taking second place among small schools at the 41st annual Warrior Classic. Paonia placed four wrestlers and scored 126.5 points. "Not too bad," said head coach Nate Wiggins with a hint of exhaustion in his voice. "I think we got second in small schools last year." (He was right. Paonia took second among small schools last year to Monticello, Utah.)
Uintah High School in Vernal, Utah, took first among the small schools and placed fourth overall. Class 5A Grand Junction and 4A Rocky Mountain and Thompson Valley took the top three spots.
For the first time in recent history the Eagles ended the two-day tournament with no Warrior champions. "That happens at this tournament," said Wiggins. "It's pretty brutal to get through there. We'd always like to get a few more through."
Junior 138-pounder Sackett Chesnik was the only Eagle to get to the championship match. In semifinals Chesnik won in sudden victory over 13-2 Tannen Kennedy of Meeker. Chesnik's match against Zac Musselman, the reigning state champion from Utah, was a back-and-forth battle for control, with Chesnik in control and leading, 3-2, in the final seconds of the match when Musselman pulled a reversal as the referee blew the whistle. "It was a good performance," said Wiggins.
Chesnik is now 15-1 for the season.
Clay Campbell (145) was 6-2 for the tournament and placed fourth. In the championship round Campbell lost by pin to Cole Hernandez, a top-five wrestler from 4A Pueblo Centennial. On day one of the two-day tournament, Campbell lost his third-round match to Hernandez by a 6-4 decision and paid dearly for the loss, working his way back to Saturday night's championship round by winning five consolation matches, four of them by pin.
"Hopefully I'll see him again," said Campbell.
It was also Campbell's first time to place at the Warrior. "He had one of the tougher brackets," said Wiggins. "He just had a phenomenal tournament."
At 220, Cyrus Malek-Madani placed sixth on a 3-0 decision to Cedaredge's Taj Van der Linde. Malek-Madani is a senior, but this is his first appearance at the Warrior. "Not bad for a first appearance," said Wiggins. Malek-Madani has improved a lot since last year, said Wiggins. "To go into this undefeated and get sixth" shows how far he's come.
Paonia wrestled at 10 weights and won matches and scored team points in every weight. The Eagles will begin winter break Wednesday with a home dual against Palisade. Matches start at 6 p.m.