Back on the mat: Bonine filling leadership role for Paonia since return

Photo by Dean Humphrey—Preston Bonine, right, is one of the top performers for defending state champion Paonia, which wrestles in the Class 2A Western regional today and Saturday at Palisade High School.


Class 2A Western Regional

When: 6 p.m. on Friday; 10 a.m. on Saturday

Where: Palisade High School

Notes: Soroco’s Lauryn Bruggink will attempt to become the first girl to qualify for the state tournament two consecutive years. She is one of four wrestlers in the region ranked in the top 11 in state at 103 pounds. Paonia, last year’s state champion, is ranked sixth. Rangely is ranked eighth. There are 20 returning state qualifiers in the region.

Class 3A Western Regional

When: Friday-Saturday

Where: Western State College, Gunnison

Notes: Second-ranked Olathe tops an 11-team region that includes fifth-ranked Grand Valley and 10th-ranked Gunnison. There are 10 returning state placers, including five state finalists in the region. The 130-pound weight class includes four returning state qualifiers and six ranked wrestlers.

Paonia High School wrestling coach Andy Pipher knew Preston Bonine could be one of the best wrestlers he’s coached.

“I remember coaching him when he was in the fourth grade at a pee wee tournament,” Pipher said. “He went out on the mat and wrestled a good match.

“After the match, I’m sitting in the corner with him and his dad and I’m telling him something. Preston looks away from me and his dad grabbed him by the neck and said, ‘When this man speaks, you listen.’ I knew right then he was going to be a good one.”

The 125-pound senior is one of defending state champion Paonia’s top returning wrestlers.

Bonine leads the sixth-ranked Eagles into the Class 2A Western Region tournament today and Saturday at Palisade High School.

The first round and quarterfinals begin at 6 this evening. Semifinals are Saturday at 10 a.m., with the finals at 4 p.m. Tournament passes are $18 for adults, $15 for students and senior citizens. Saturday passes are $12 for adults, $10 for students and seniors.

Bonine wasn’t with the team when the season started in December.

He began the school year in Billings, Mont., where his family moved because of a job opportunity for his dad.

“I knew he was going to be one of my team leaders this year, so we were sad to see him go,” Pipher said.

It was also tough for the two-time state qualifier and state-placer.

“The coach (in Montana) wasn’t a yeller like Pipher,” Bonine said. “It was different in that sense.”

Shortly before Christmas break, the job didn’t work out for Bonine’s dad and they moved back to Paonia.

“It was definitely good to get back to my hometown and team,” Bonine said. “I definitely had more push, knowing I grew up with these kids, to work harder for them and not just yourself.”

Bonine’s first tournament back was the Montrose Invitational, but he failed to place. He bounced back to finish third in the Palisade Invitational the next week.

Although Paonia needs him to do well for the team to challenge for the state title again this year, his leadership may be more valuable.

“It was pretty exciting for him to come back,” Pipher said. “Whether he places first in the state tournament or gets beat out, he’s a great leader to have in the room.

“It seemed like to me before Christmas there was a hole in the team without him there. I could feel it. He’s one of those boys you’re counting on all those years to be there.”

Bonine plans on doing more than leading the team, though. He plans to win regionals and challenge for a state title.

“I’m going to do some damage,” Bonine said. “We’re all going to have to wrestle to the top of our ability to take state again. It will take a team effort.”


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