Eagles eye 3-peat
Paonia's 10 wrestlers will need deep runs to win third straight state title
Paonia’s road to a third straight Class 2A state team wrestling championship got a little more difficult Saturday when the Eagles qualified 10 wrestlers for state.
That’s a great number of state qualifiers from most programs, but for Paonia, it was three fewer than it sent to state one year ago, when every Eagle won his first-round match.
As a result, Eagles coach Andy Pipher said his wrestlers must respond with deep runs into the state tournament this year.
“Taking 10 guys, we have to put five or six in the finals to make a run (at the team title),” Pipher said.
He can see that happening. Three of Paonia’s state entrants — junior Jesse Reed (126), sophomore Bo Pipher (132) and senior Tony Darling (285) — were state finalists a year ago. Junior Josh Altman (120) was a state semifinalist last year, and senior Ty Coats (152) and junior Zach Milner (160) are returning state qualifiers joining the aforementioned quartet of Eagles as On the Mat’s top-ranked wrestlers at their weights in 2A.
Also feel bad for Dad
The Eagles likely would have had an 11th state qualifier, but senior William Austin, who was ranked second at 182 pounds, sustained a concussion in his regional semifinal, which he lost by injury default. He could not wrestle back, and that ended his season.
“Will’s a big leader, and I was crushed to see him get hurt,” Coats said. “I feel really bad for him. I really thought he had a chance to win (the state title).”
Andy Pipher expressed after the regional how bad he felt for Austin, who placed third at state at 170 a year ago, and he added he felt awful for Austin’s father, Tim, an assistant coach for Paonia.
“His dad has put a million hours into our wrestling program,” Pipher said.
William Austin may be done wrestling, but Pipher said he’s a great student with great things awaiting him. Austin has a 4.0 grade-point average and scored an eye-opening composite score of 33 on the ACT.
Hoping he can fall asleep
Darling settled for second place last season after placing third at state as a sophomore.
He knows from previous experience what one of the major keys will be to taking that final step to the top of the awards platform.
“Try not to let nerves get the best of me,” Darling said. “Last year, I was nervous and didn’t sleep well, and the next day I was tired.”
Practice partners make perfect
Reed has a full season under his belt for the first time and enters state undefeated as he seeks his third state title and tries to remain on the path to four state titles. The starts to his first two wrestling seasons were delayed by injuries from football, but he didn’t play football this past season.
“I definitely feel confident,” he said. “I have the best workout partners in the state. I feel confident. I feel ready.”
Those workout partners are Altman and Pipher, and each of them says they benefit from the daily competition in the practice room.
“Wrestling against them all week, it really gives us the edge, I feel, on the weekends,” Reed said. “We all feel we should be there in the finals this year.”
Altman added, “We’re pretty fortunate to have the talent we have on our team. It doesn’t happen very often.”
Doubling his Title efforts
Bo Pipher just missed winning a state title as a freshman, bowing 5-2 in the final at 126 to undefeated senior and returning state champ Adam Baca of Rocky Ford, so he’s determined to get it done this year.
“I’ve been working since state finals last year when I lost,” Pipher said. “I’ve been working hard, and I’m ready to go for it again. I got twice as much mat time in this summer as the year before. (The loss) kind of motivated me to get better.”
Last chance at championship
Coats became a four-time state qualifier last weekend. Now, he wants that state title that has eluded him.
“I want to finish it, man,” said Coats, who placed fifth as a freshman, didn’t place as a sophomore and placed fourth as a junior at state. “They’ve got me seeded No. 1 this year, which means I’ve got a big target on my head. I want to win it. I’ve worked really hard.”
Meeker sophomore T.J. Shelton won the 2A state title at 160 pounds last year, meaning he has a chance at four state titles. But he said he doesn’t feel any pressure to win a second state title. Instead, he believes he’s put in the work and is peaking at the right time, and he’s ready for the grind he knows awaits.
“I feel good about my chances,” said Shelton, who is 28-2 at 170 pounds this season. “Like last year, it’s going to be tough.”
Meeker coach J.C. Watt quickly dismissed any talk of pressure when it comes to Shelton.
“T.J.‘s a confident guy,” Watt said. “I don’t see being a returning champion as a pressure thing with him. I don’t see it.”
What he does see is a wrestler capable of winning title No. 2.
“T.J.‘s a very solid performer,” Watt said. “Mentally he’s very tough, and physically he has all the tools.”
Confident and polite
Senior J.C. Henderson will try to exit his final state meet with his first state title. A four-time state qualifier who placed at state for the first time last season, when he took fifth, Henderson exudes confidence.
Fresh off his regional title at 138 Saturday, Henderson wore a T-shirt that said: “I would hate to wrestle me.”
Most people would call that cocky, but Henderson just believes he’s going to get things done in his final attempt.
He also was a rare level of polite during an interview in which “yes, sir” and “no, sir” were frequent utterances.
Watt said Henderson should be confident, adding Henderson has improved every year since he was a freshman, and “he’s certainly capable” of winning a state title.
Exercising extreme caution
Grand Junction junior Jacob Trujillo seeks his second state crown, and Tigers coach Cole Allison said, “As long as he just keeps his head, he’ll bring home another state title.”
Trujillo, a state finalist as a freshman and a sophomore, was last year’s 5A champ at 145 pounds.
At 160 this year, he’s encountering a different approach from his opponents, even the toughest ones. No one wants to really wrestle him, Allison said, citing Trujillo’s 8-4 win over Doherty senior Brandon Supernaw (37-7) in last Saturday’s regional final as a perfect example.
“The Doherty kid is a good wrestler, he’s highly ranked, and I don’t think he took one step forward until 40 seconds were left in the match,” Allison said.
Grand Junction junior Tyler Zook, 32-8 and state-bound after winning his 5A regional at 220, was one of the rare wrestlers who stayed close to undefeated Fruita Monument junior Jacob Seely this season, and Seely was impressed.
Seely, normally a 195-pounder, twice wrestled up a weight to face Zook in late-season duals. He pinned Zook the first time, but one week later Zook limited Seely to a 6-1 decision.
“I have to give him so much credit,” Seely said. “He’s a brawler. He really gets after it. ... He’s tough as nails.”
He won’t just watch Big brother
Seely and Fruita Monument got a nice surprise this week when Wildcat sophomore Jared Seely learned he gets to wrestle at state instead of just spectate.
Jared Seely placed fifth at 138 at the regional meet, and the state berths go to the top four places. However, one of those four withdrew because of injury, and Seely, who is 20-10, was next in line to replace him in the state field.
Better than the real Bieber
Grand Junction junior Kohlby Wells (120) punched his first ticket to state by placing third in the regional.
His teammates nicknamed him Bieber because of Wells’ resemblance to teen heartthrob Justin Bieber.
When it was suggested being called Bieber has negative connotations now that the pop singer is becoming better known for run-ins with the law and cultivating a bad-boy image, Allison laughed.
“Not our Bieber,” he said. “He’s skyrocketing. We’re getting street cred back for (the real Bieber).”
Central junior Rowdy Allen (25-13 at 195) became a state qualifier this year because he’s starting to use more technique to complement his strength.
“The kid is gifted with strength you wouldn’t believe,” Warriors coach Laurence Gurule said.
Asked for an example, Gurule said, “If someone’s doing something to him, he’ll stop it. He’ll dadgum stop it.”
Setting realistic goals
Olathe had a banner day at its 3A regional, qualifying 11 wrestlers for state, and Pirates coach Tee Jay Rose believes he has individual title contenders in undefeated senior Trenton Piatt, a four-time state qualifier, and junior Austin Shank, a three-time state qualifier with two fourth-place finishes to his name.
With a mix of quantity and quality, could the Pirates make a run at the 3A team title?
“Anything’s possible,” Rose said, but he added the more realistic goal is, “Hopefully we can get in the top five or so and build off that.
“Brush and Valley are pretty tough. Brush has 11 returning state-placers.”
The heart of the matter
Also with 11 state qualifiers in 3A is Cedaredge, which had been improving by one state qualifier per year under fifth-year coach Ted Schanen.
In his first season, two Bruins made it to state. The next year, three qualified. Then, Cedarege sent four in Year 3 and five last year. Six would have made sense this year, but Schanen said before the regional, “This year, if we only qualify six, I’m going to cry.”
Instead, he was trying to keep his heart in his chest as Bruin after Bruin qualified for state, a couple of them winning in the final seconds of close matches.
“Even though I wasn’t doing any physical activity, I swear my heart rate was at 170,” Schanen said. “It’s such an emotional roller coaster.”
The down side of that wild ride was the heartbreak Schanen felt for his wrestlers who didn’t make the state cut. Two were freshmen who will get three more chances, but one was senior Beau Hebert, who placed sixth in his final regional.
“I was really hoping we could get Beau Hebert in,” Schanen said. “He lost two really, really close matches.”
The 132-pound division in Class 4A will be one of the most competitive in the state. The favorites are Palisade’s Dalton Hannigan, a state champ last year at 126, and Pueblo County freshman Hunter Willits, who beat Hannigan 2-1 at regionals. Hannigan, who has battled an ankle injury for much of the season, beat Willits 5-4 at the Indian Invitational in Montrose one month earlier.
Rifle’s Dallas Rohrig is looking to pull off the upset. The senior lost to Willits 10-3 and finished third at regionals, but he is still confident going into state.
“I should have beat him,” Rohrig said about his loss to Willits. “But getting to state is what matters. I’m going there to win it.”
Rohrig, a champion bull rider, hopes to win a state title like his father, Bo, did for the Bears in 1990.
Daily Sentinel reporter Dale Shrull contributed to this article.