Loaded Paonia team chasing 3rd straight state championship
Usually by now, Paonia High School wrestling coach Andy Pipher has a full wrestling room.
This season has been a little different for the two-time defending Class 2A state champs.
Pipher has 28 wrestlers signed up this season, but only had a dozen in the practice room the first two weeks of practice because most of them were playing on the football team that won the state championship.
Pipher isn’t sure when he’ll get some of the football players in the wrestling room, but he’s not worried about it.
“Some of them are beat up, but we’ll give them time off,” Pipher said. “I don’t care about now. It’s all practice until February. They’ll be ready by then.”
He has eight returning state placers and nine qualifiers back this season.
Josh Altman, who placed third at 113 pounds last year, will compete with two-time state champion Jesse Reed for the 126-pound spot. The other might drop to 120 pounds. Both weighed 128 pounds when practice began two weeks ago.
“Josh is tough,” Pipher said. “He’ll be in the hunt for the state finals. He got beat on a stalling call in the semifinals.”
Altman played defensive end/linebacker for the Paonia football team.
“Jesse is healthy this year,” Pipher said. “He’s had a slow start the past two years with injuries from football. He’s twice as tough. He ran cross country this year. He’s 120 pounds, but plays like he’s 230 pounds. That’s just his attitude. He goes hard.”
Bo Pipher, a 126-pound state runner-up as a freshman, will likely wrestle at 132 pounds.
“Bo had over 70 matches in the offseason,” his father and coach said. “He beat some good kids this summer. He won the Rocky Mountain Nationals in Denver and is the first kid I’ve coached win that. I’m excited for him.”
Altman, Reed and Bo Pipher will continue to work out with each other in practice, which only makes them better, their coach said.
“Those three are all about the same size,” Pipher said. “They are great workout partners. They make each other tougher.”
Gunnar Chesnik, Ty Coats, Zach Milner and Will Austin will each likely bump up a weight class.
Joel Simianer and Tony Darling are back at 220 and 285 pounds, respectively.
Freshman Trevor Smith will likely wrestle at 195 pounds. He had an older brother and cousins wrestle for Pipher at Paonia.
“He’s a good kid and works hard,” Pipher said.
With a strong returning core back, Paonia is the clear favorite to win its third consecutive Class 2A team state title and fifth in nine years.
“I think we can finish in the top 10,” Pipher said. “We have a pretty good group. I see us wrestling well.”
Paonia has earned so much respect for its accomplishments, some of the best programs in the state called Pipher to schedule duals with the Eagles.
Arvada West, Broomfield, Pueblo West and Discovery Canyon are all coming to wrestle the Eagles in Paonia this season.
“I don’t see anyone beating Paonia,” Meeker coach J.C. Watt said. “They’re returning something like 170 points from last year’s state tournament. That’s probably enough alone to win it.”
The Cowboys return six state qualifiers, including state champion T.J. Shelton. The sophomore will likely wrestle at 170 or 182 pounds.
“Meeker will be tough,” Pipher said. “They are coming on. They have some good kids. Rocky Ford is always tough.”