Experience helps Paonia stay grounded in first round at state

DENVER — Dustin Braslin remembers exactly what it was like last year when he walked into the Pepsi Center for the first time as a competitor at the state wrestling tournament.

It was all a bit overwhelming — the end-to-end matches, constant roll call for competitors, and, of course, the bright lights and the sheer size of the expansive arena.

Competing this year at the state meet for the second time, Braslin, a junior from Paonia High School, made sure it was his effort that proved overwhelming instead of the surrounding atmosphere.

Braslin provided one of several highlights for the Eagles during the opening round of the Class 2A state finals on Thursday, earning a first-round victory as eight of Paonia’s 12 wrestlers advanced out of the first round.

“This is the nice part of our kids — they have come over here and wrestled in a bunch of tournaments before,” Paonia head coach Andy Pipher said. “It’s still not the high school state tournament, I realize that.

“But the kids give it all they’ve got, and that is all you can ask of them. And we tell them to have fun. If you’re not nervous out there, you’re not alive. That’s what we try to tell them — if you’re not nervous, you’re crazy. Because I’m nervous, and I’m the coach. That’s what we tell them.”

Braslin (27-10) recorded a 6-0 win over Taylor Weirich of Eads in the first round of the 140-pound division. Braslin credited last year’s state experience, when he went 2-2, for helping to calm his nerves when he stepped on the Pepsi Center floor.

“It’s always rough getting that first match out of the way, but after that it seems like things get better,” Braslin said. “Everybody’s nerves settle down. We’re wrestling good now, so hopefully we can keep it up.”

Paonia’s 103-pound freshman, Blake Duval, opened the meet for the Eagles with a comeback victory against John Mall junior Jacob Tenorio. The Eagles also advanced Cody Clawson (125), 135-pound state title contender Adrian Lopez, Jorge Quinones (145), Cody Rapke (152), Morgan Rieder (189), and heavyweight Zach Solaas.

The winners compete in the quarterfinals at 10 this morning, with first-round consolation matches to follow. The semifinals begin at 7:15 tonight.

“I think that kid (Duval) beat was a junior, and he’s looking at that,” Pipher said. “You look at the bracket, you know what’s going on. The kids have experience here, so that is a big match for him getting one under his belt.

“You could see it in that first period. He was down 4-0 and had to battle back. He kind of woke up and decided to battle, and he battled back tough. They know we expect that.”

Meeker junior J.R. Crawford won his first-round match in the 189-pound weight class, but his teammate, freshman J.C. Henderson, lost at 112 pounds.


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