After finishing second in Class 2A last February, Paonia returns six state qualifiers to the wrestling mat. The Eagles are third in preseason Class 2A rankings, as determined by On the Mat.
Four of those returning state qualifiers placed third in state: Senior Sackett Chesnik, who opens the season at 152 pounds, and junior Grey Neal (160) are both ranked first in state by On the Mat. Senior Anthony Felice (182), and junior Levi Peterson are ranked second.
Junior Zeb Etter, who wrestled at state at 126, starts the season at 145; and Anthony Miller, returns at 182 pounds, where he's ranked third.
Paonia starts the season wrestling 10 of 14 weights. Sophomore Reagan Todd, who placed sixth in the region as a freshman, returns at 120 pounds. Senior Ethan White will start the season at 126; freshman Dawson Morgan starts the season at 132; junior Carlos Lozano opens at 170; and junior Austyn Norris will wrestle at 195.
Also on the list of eligible wrestlers are freshmen David Erickson (106), Ian Stanfield (106), Lucas Erickson (120), Jason Kuntz (120), Calen Utterback (126), Gerson Maya (126), and Trenton Gaston (170).
Once everyone is settled into his weight, "We should be pretty solid," said second-year head coach Nate Wiggins.
The Eagles opened the season Saturday, going 4-0 at the Mesa Maverick Duals in Grand Junction. Paonia defeated Rifle, 46-18, Montezuma-Cortez 42-29, Bayfield, 39-22, and Moffat County, 36-33.
Chesnik won two matches by fall, one by major decision and one by technical fall.
Two of Neal's three victories were by fall; Lozano had four wins, three by fall and one by MD; Miller was 2-1 with two pins; Felice was 3-1 with two pins and one decision; and Peterson was 2-1 with two pins.
Todd was 2-3, both wins by pin; White finished at 1-4, Morgan was 0-3; and Norris was 0-4.
Because wrestlers can get up to five matches in one day, Maverick Duals are a good way to kick the season off, said Wiggins. It's especially good for younger wrestlers, who need to get in as many matches as possible. "There may be a couple of byes, but everyone gets matches."
Paonia won't wrestle at home until Jan. 17, when it hosts rival Hotchkiss.
The Eagles travel to Montrose this Thursday, and compete at the annual Delta Panther Invitational beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday morning at Delta High School.
The Paonia Duals are Jan. 25, and the Screaming Eagle tournament is Jan. 26.
Paonia's only other home competition is Feb. 7 when it hosts Delta.