Paonia sends 13 wrestlers to state after dominating 2A regional win
Eight regional champions, two runners-up, three third-place finishers. That’s 13 state qualifiers in 14 weight classes, the kind of representation Paonia was looking for as it heads to Denver this week seeking a second straight state wrestling team title.
The Eagles flexed their muscles often on the mat Saturday as they ran away with the Class 2A Region 1 wrestling championship at Grand Junction High School.
Class 2A’s top-ranked team finished with 304 points, well ahead of runner-up Dove Creek, the third-ranked team, with 189.5 points. Meeker placed third in the 12-team regional with 164.5 points and qualified eight wrestlers for the state meet, including one champion, freshman T.J. Shelton at 160 pounds.
Sophomore Josh Altman (36-3) started the parade of Paonia state qualifiers at 113 pounds, where the returning state qualifier cruised to a 13-0 win in his final. Fellow Eagles claiming titles were sophomore Jesse Reed (120); freshman Bo Pipher (126); sophomore Gunner Chesnik (138); junior William Austin (170); senior Tyler Kendall (195); sophomore Joel Simianer (220); and junior Tony Darling (285).
Reed, who won the state title at 113 pounds as a freshman, pulled away in the third period for a 6-2 win over Dove Creek’s Chance Randolph. The tough match came as no surprise, though, as Reed (19-2) said he had beaten Randolph by a point earlier in the season.
Pipher (35-4) won his final by first-period pin, countering Nick Jones’ try for a double-leg takedown with a Sanders cradle, rolling the Dove Creek junior over onto his shoulders. Seconds later, the ref slapped the mat, sending Pipher to state as a regional champ.
Chesnik (27-12) took a 4-0 lead after two periods and held on for a 4-2 win.
Austin had one of the more exciting matches of the finals, as he and Derrick Richard of North Park took turns scoring back points until Austin reversed Richard and put him to his back with a headlock, eventually getting the pin with five seconds left in the second period.
“It was all kind of a blur,” Austin said. “It wasn’t my best match. My position needs some improvement. I’ll be working on that next week.”
Austin (24-6) earned his first trip to state after spending the last half of his sophomore season on the junior varsity.
“It means a lot,” he said. “My dad (Tim Austin) won state when he was in high school, and my brother (Taylor) went to state. It means a lot, to get to state and to be able to show my face around the family.”
Kendall (27-4) also is making his first trip to state, thanks to his return to the sport. After spending his freshman and sophomore wrestling seasons on junior varsity, he decided to play basketball as a junior.
“I was just kind of tired of all of the work in the wrestling room and wasn’t getting the results, and I didn’t think I could make the (varsity),” he said.
His return to the mat, Kendall said, was a matter of: “I didn’t think I could make the basketball team, so I came back. I thought I had most of my talent back, what I learned.”
Paonia head coach Andy Pipher vouched for that, saying, “He fell right back into where he was at, wrestling better than he ended his sophomore year.”
Adding to the ease of the transition, Pipher said, is Kendall’s athleticism.
“He’s a great football player, great baseball player, great athlete,” Pipher said. “He’s just a good kid to have on your team.”
Simianer (27-10) was in a battle with North Park senior Anjel Arredondo, leading only 3-1 when he took Arredondo down early in the third period and eventually cradled him and pinned him in 4:38.
Not bad for an undersized wrestler at 220. Simianer feared he wouldn’t weigh enough — the minimum for that class is 184 pounds — to be allowed to wrestle Saturday.
“I drank a ton of Gatorade ahead of time,” he said, referring to the morning weigh-in. “I ended up two pounds over (184).”
Darling (32-1) had a tougher match than he anticipated, beating West Grand heavyweight Stephen Terrazas 3-0. Darling said he had pinned the freshman in the second period of a previous meeting.
“I didn’t wrestle my match,” said Darling, who despite being a returning state qualifier admitted he was nervous Saturday.
Paonia’s runners-up were senior Jorge Quinonez at 160 and four-time state qualifier Morgan Reider, who placed second at state a year ago.
Reider (30-3) ran into the same wrestler who beat him in the regional a year ago: Hayden senior Ryan Domson, who ran his record to 10-0 with a 7-3 decision.
Quinonez fell victim to Meeker’s Shelton, whom he had beaten twice previously in close matches. Shelton said their most recent match went into overtime, and it looked like their final might go overtime when Quinonez was awarded a stalling point late in the third period, tying the match 3-3.
Shelton admitted he was backing up, but after fending off two double-leg shots by Quinonez, it was a single-leg try by Quinonez he was able to counter, spinning around him to score a takedown with eight seconds left for a 5-3 win.
“I just capitalized on a short shot,” Shelton said, saying he used a whizzer and “was just fighting and pushing, using every last bit of energy I could.”