Paonia captures third straight 2A team crown
DENVER — Five state finalists, five champions.
Paonia High School wrestling coach Andy Pipher didn’t know the Colorado wrestling history off the top of his head, but he knew this much when it comes to teams having five individual state champions in a season: “It ain’t been done too many times.”
And he knew for certain the latest to do it was Paonia on Saturday night, when junior Jesse Reed at 126 pounds, sophomore Bo Pipher at 132, senior Ty Coats at 152, junior Zach Milner at 160 and senior Tony Darling at heavyweight won Class 2A state wrestling championships.
Behind the strength of those five individual champions, Paonia steamrolled the Class 2A field for its third straight team state title. The Eagles finished with 180 points and second-place Baca County had 112.5. Meeker was third with 98.5.
“Those five (individual) state championships to me are as great as the team titles,” Pipher said, “because they’re so hard to do.”
And as good as the team title felt and all of the individual successes, Pipher couldn’t help being a dad when he said the feeling that meant the most to him Saturday night was the relief he felt for his son, Bo. Andy Pipher said he knows how hard his son has worked, and how much it means to both of them that he won a championship this year after losing in the finals one year ago.
Knowing the frustration of finishing second was one of the driving factors in Bo Pipher (37-2) being so calm after winning his final 6-3 over Dove Creek junior Chance Randolph (40-8).
Bo Pipher said he saw no need to over-celebrate. He respected the effort Randolph gave.
Pipher got the job done in his return to the finals by taking a quick lead, 4-1 after the first period, and hanging on from there. Then, at the end of the night, he was one of two wrestlers selected as an outstanding wrestler in 2A as voted on by the coaches. The other was Baca County senior Stetson Loader, who won his third state title.
Pipher did let his emotions go a little bit when he got into one of the tunnels in the corners of the Pepsi Center and encountered the congratulations of several of his teammates. In particular, he gave Paonia junior Josh Altman, who finished fourth at 120 pounds, a long hug and told him, “Thank you for helping me. I wouldn’t have done it without you.”
Reed started the parade of champions with his 6-4 win over fellow unbeaten Austin Coy of Swink at 126 pounds, giving Reed his third state title, which puts him in position next year to become a four-time state champ.
The final whistle in his match brought a flood of emotions as he sprang to his feet and pointed to the Paonia crowd gathered in the west end of the Pepsi Center. He eventually got around to jumping into the arms of his father, Bobby Reed, an assistant coach for Paonia, and Andy Pipher.
Rivaling that emotion was Coats (39-2), a four-time state qualifier who prevailed 2-0 at 152 pounds over fellow senior Ricky Aragon of Rocky Ford (41-6) in his final chance to win a state title.
Coats (38-2) struck a familiar winning pose he used during the tournament. He got low and extended both arms forward, each hand forming a set of horns, to point toward the Paonia fans.
After winning his first three matches at state by pin, Saturday’s title match was a dogfight to the finish. The first two periods were scoreless with both wrestlers on their feet the whole time.
Coats started the third period in the down position and was awarded the first point on a stalling call with 55 seconds remaining. Then, after Coats was warned for stalling with 10 seconds left, he escaped with six seconds remaining for the final point.
Coats could laugh about the stalling calling against Aragon, because he himself had been stalling all match, just in the smartest way possible.
“He’s a thrower, and I didn’t want to go in on him. ... It was tricky,” he said. “I had to act like I was doing something, and that’s what I did. I circled and took shots in.”
Coats said the stalling call against Aragon was deserved, and he added with a huge smile, “I was looking like I was working. He wasn’t, I guess.”
As close as Coats’ match was, it looked lopsided compared to Milner’s championship win. Milner (36-3) had to go three overtimes to beat Devon Pontine 3-2. Milner escaped in the second overtime. Then, when it was his turn to ride Pontine, he held him scoreless for the required 30 seconds.
It was the fifth match between the two, and the fifth win for Milner, who won one of the matches by pin, but the rest were all within two points.
“That kid’s a pretty good kid,” said an exhausted Milner, too tired to show much emotion. “It’s harder and harder every time.”
Milner said the state finals are always going to be close, and being so familiar with an opponent made it more so.
Darling (32-2) capped the night for Paonia with the excitement of a pinfall victory in 61 seconds over Crowley County freshman Keith Dunagan (28-2).
Darling scored a takedown 32 seconds into the match, then worked a half nelson, grabbed Dunagan’s leg and drove into him to turn him. The match was over soon after.
“My goals were a pin, my personal goals, and it feels good to get that, going out my senior year,” he said.
It also felt good to make amends for losing in the finals a year ago. Last year, Darling said, he was tired on championship night because nerves prevented him from sleeping the night before.
He avoided that this year, getting his sleep minus the nerves, in part, because he expected to win.
Freelance reporter Kent Mincer contributed to this report.