Fans of Paonia wrestling were treated to quite a show last Saturday when three hometown grapplers won individual titles at the Screamin' Eagle Tournament.
Hotchkiss won the team title and Paonia finished fourth in the standings, but the Eagles were not disappointed after three of their standouts claimed championships.
The first title winner for Paonia was freshman Sackett Chesnik, who gutted out a tough 2-0 decision versus Hotchkiss sophomore Colton Hall in the title match at 126 pounds.
For Chesnik, the match was very similar to a 2-0 decision he won over the Bulldogs' Colton DeLuzio earlier this year in Hotchkiss.
In both matches, Chesnik scored an early takedown then held on to win with superior defensive tactics. The Bulldogs just couldn't score against him.
"Those boys have a really good program and they know quite a bit," Chesnik said after winning the Screamin' Eagle. "They know how to get out of Paonia stuff. It's kinda hard going up against them."
Chesnik arrived at the high school with a state champion-caliber pedigree, as his three older brothers -- Luke, Louis and Gunnar -- wrestled at Paonia for coach Andy Pipher. All of the Chesnik's had outstanding careers and were regarded as some of the toughest Eagles.
"All three of my brothers wrestled with Pipher," Chesnik said. "It just kind of beat me up and made me get in shape for it. Then Nate (Wiggins), the coach at middle school really steps it up and makes you know what it's going to be like at high school."
The early training helped Chesnik prepare to step in right away and contribute on the varsity squad.
"When I finished second in middle school, I kind of saw how much more of an advantage we have with our coaches and how much time they spend with us, to really get us prepared," Ches-nik said.
Chesnik's confidence is growing as the season progresses. His championship win at the Screamin' Eagle came at a perfect time.
"It's probably the highlight of my year because when I came in, I wasn't really expecting to do real good," Chesnik said. "Then last night when I beat (Centauri's) Patrick Esparsen, ranked No. 2 in the state, it really gave me a fuel for what you can do if you just put your mind to it. So today I was just gonna put it all out there and ended up getting in the finals and beating Hall and getting the victory."
The second champion at the Screamin' Eagle was a familiar one. Paonia senior Bo Pipher has won every match this season by pinfall but for one match, which was a technical fall domination.
In the finals last Saturday night, Pipher pinned Hotchkiss standout Austin Todd in less than 30 seconds for the win at 145 pounds. After the win he couldn't remember how many matches he's won by pin this year.
"I don't know how many it is. All but one match," Pipher said, never one to talk too much about his exploits. "I don't really count how many I have. I count the ones I don't have. It's easier to keep track that way."
Todd, ranked No. 2 in the state, is a formidable opponent that Pipher has seen a few times in his career.
"I just tried to be ready for anything that he would do," Pipher said. "Austin is a good wrestler. I was just prepared for a good match and went out and used my game plan."
Pipher continued his campaign to capture a third individual state championship and appears to have no weaknesses. His matches rarely get into the second round.
Pipher was named Outstanding Wrestler of the Tournament in the lower weights while Terrance Williams of Palisade claimed that honor in the upper weights.
The title at the Screamin' Eagle was nice for Pipher, but he keeps his focus on the mat and not on the record books.
"My freshman year here I had an OT match in the finals, and sophomore year the same thing," Pipher said. "Just a lot of good memories of the matches here. But really all the tournaments are kinda the same. I just wanna win them all."
Paonia's third individual champ at the tournament was junior Trevor Smith, who won his much-anticipated match against Norwood's Ethan Barnes at 220 pounds.
Both grapplers stayed on their feet for most of the match, which was tied 1-1 deep into the third period. Smith scored a late takedown, 3-1 was put on the scoreboard, and Smith let out a triumphant roar when the buzzer sounded.
Not so fast. The referees consulted, then took the points off the board and determined that Smith did not score the takedown in time.
"I thought I had the win. I thought I had a couple of extra seconds when I got that takedown," Smith said. "I don't know what happened right there, honestly."
Smith and Barnes went back at it for another scoreless overtime, then Smith finally got Barnes on his back and pinned him with 1.6 seconds left in the second overtime session.
"I was pretty focused the whole time," Smith said. "I knew I had to take him down. He's a tough wrestler, so I knew he was just as focused as I was."
Smith won at the Screamin' Eagle last year as well. As regionals and state approach, he's going to be relied upon heavily as one of the few upperclassmen on Paonia's roster.
"It's always nice winning at home. It's nice being a back-to-back champion at home," Smith said. "This is kind of like the regional, there's a lot of tough kids, so I like where I'm at right now. You do what you gotta do to win."