In local high school sports, there's a long-standing tradition of celebrating state champions with a parade through town. On Wednesday, Paonia was honored for earning a second consecutive state title in wrestling.
At the Pepsi Center in Denver last week, Paonia had more wrestlers medal than most teams brought to the tournament. Head coach Andy Pipher worked his way through the weight classes Wednesday, surrounded by his team and from atop Paonia's Ladder One fire truck.
"Josh Altman, a 113-pounder, was third place at state. Jesse Reed, a 120-pounder, first place at state, and he's a two-time state champion. Let's give him a big hand."
In all, Paonia placed 11 of its 13 state qualifiers in the 2A tournament. But their performance might be better summed up in terms of records. Paonia scored 205 and a half points, 57 and a half points ahead of second-place Highland, which makes them the third-highest scoring team in state history.
They tied the old record for pins with 25, set last year by Paonia. For the second year in a row, Pipher was named the 2A and overall state coach of the year by the Colorado High School Activities Association. He told the crowd that the number of pins puts them in the top 10 teams in the nation. Their 13 qualifiers fell just shy of the state record 14, a record they set in 2012.
Reed's 7-5 title win over No. 1 seeded Stetson Loader puts him in the record books along side other two- time state champions, including coach Pipher, and Reed's dad and Paonia assistant coach, Robert Reed, who won titles for Paonia in 1978 and 79.
Among Paonia's placers, Pipher's son, freshman Bo Pipher, had three pins and wrestled just 3 minutes and 37 seconds on his way to the championship round. Pipher finished second. Heavyweight Tony Darling was also runner-up.
Paonia will graduate four state qualifiers, including Dylan Stroud, Jorge Quinonez, Tyler Kendall and Morgan Reider. With strong peewee and middle school programs and 15 varsity and junior varsity wrestlers expected to return, Pipher sees another good season next year. But wrestlers know that only hard work will get them there.
Sophomore Zach Milner describes the effort it takes just to get to the Pepsi Center. "It's crazy, I mean you come in in the mornings and run, you just basically have to push yourself as hard as you can go and then some, puking your guts out after you're running just to get to go over the hill. And then after that, blood, sweat and tears. You know. You just have to get yourself in the best shape you'll ever be in in your life, and then try to push yourself even farther," said Milner.
When KVNF's Tamie Meck asked, "And is it worth it?" Milner, whose dad Mark is an assistant coach and former state champion from Paonia, summed it up this way, "Oh, amazing. It was pretty cool. Wrestling down on the floor of the Pepsi Center was awesome. It was just a crazy atmosphere. And going down Saturday night and getting the big trophy was just awesome. So it was a great experience.
Hotchkiss qualified seven for state and came home with two second-place medals. At 138 pounds, Jesse Head pinned his way to the finals, upsetting defending state champion Jared Mestas in the quarterfinals and the No. 4 seed in the semifinals. Joe Boyle was seeded second and faced No. 1 Jason Buhr in the finals. Hotchkiss placed 10th overall in 3A competition.
Montrose heavyweight Jesus Casillas finished fifth. Olathe brought home two medals. Senior Jacob Solseth was runner-up after falling to top-ranked Joshua Miller of Bennett. Solseth finished the season with a 30-5 record. And senior Tray Sickels of Nucla, who claimed a state title in 2011, wrapped up an impressive career with a second place finish and a 36-7 record.
In hoops action, the 2A District 5 tournament begins this afternoon at Paonia High School. The Paonia Lady Eagles are seeded first. Paonia faces No. 4 Rangely at 6 p.m. today. The Hotchkiss girls are seeded third and face No. 2 Meeker at 3 p.m.
The Montrose and Delta girls made the top 32 teams in the state 4A bracket. Delta travels to Pueblo to face 15 and 9 Longmont and Montrose faces 14-10 Pueblo East. Both games are at 5:30 today. The winners advance to Saturday's sweet 16 round.
In first-round boys action, No. 4 Paonia surprised No. 5 Hotchkiss in Tuesday night's pigtail game with an overwhelming 83-47 win. Paonia will face No. 1 Hayden tonight at 7:30.
All three North Fork teams will compete at next week's regional tournaments, with seeding to be determined this weekend.