DENVER — In addition to the tension of wrestling for individual state championships, 10 wrestlers entering Saturday’s Class 2A state finals had the added pressure of knowing their matches could well determine the all-prestigious team championship.
Heading into the championship matches, just 4.5 points separated the top three teams.
Rocky Ford, with three wrestlers in the finals, led with 130.5 points. Centauri, with four in title matches, trailed by 2.5. Meeker, also with three wrestling for titles, had 126.
It all started in the evening’s first match, with Rocky Ford junior Jacob Rodriguez looking to defend his 106-pound title. He did it in style, pinning Centauri’s Zach Martin in 1:01.
“Coach (Mike Jurney) talked about how important the match was and how important it was for the team," Rodriguez said.
Centauri suffered another loss in the next match, at 113, as Akron’s Tanner Watson held on for an exciting 10-9 decision over Joe Chavez.
Quinton Montague got Centauri on track, winning the 120-pound title in style.
Trailing two-time defending state champ Jonathan Andreatta 6-2 entering the third period, Montague got a takedown midway through the period, then earned back points to tie the match. He got another takedown 28 seconds into overtime.
After watching his two teammates, lose, “It kind of made me mad,” Montague said.
He wasn’t concerned about overcoming a four-point deficit.
“I just kept going, couldn’t stop,” he said.
But the Meloneers stayed in the team hunt with a victory by Jeremy Fraser by 16-1 technical fall at 132.
Fraser made the progression each season, finishing fourth at state as a freshman, third as a sophomore and runner-up last year.
“I knew what to expect,” he said of handling the hoopla of the Parade of Championship prior to the finals.
As for knowing each match was important in the team race, “It motivated me way more,” he said of relishing the pressure.
Meanwhile, looming close was Meeker, which, starting at 152, had three wrestlers competing in the next four title bouts.
Casey Turner got it started on a positive note, pinning Hayden Harris of Norwood/Nucla in 2:44.
Turner, a sixth seed, had beaten Harris three times during the season, but Harris got the better of them at last week’s regional tournament. That provided more motivation for Turner.
“(The team race) was definitely on my mind,” he said, “but if each individual takes care of business, the team scores will take care of themselves.”
That being said, getting the pin points was a big plus.
Then it was time for a Meeker-Centauri head-to-head as the Cowboys’ TJ Shelton, looking to become Colorado’s 19th four-time state champion, took on Chris Martin at 170.
Shelton took control in the second period, getting near falls in the second and third periods to take a 16-7 decision.
Then it was teammate Devon Pontine’s turn at 182. He controlled Zane Barber of John Mall throughout, earning those all-important pin points in 4:46.
The upper-weight wrestlers push each other hard in the Meeker practice room.
“Every day somebody’s on the verge of tears in there,” Pontine said.
It was up to Rocky Ford’s Greg Garcia, trying to pull the upset over Keith Dunagan of Crowley County in the heavyweight match.
But Dunagan retained his perfect record (34-0) with a pin in 1:39.
That sealed the team title for Meeker, which, with 143 points, edged Rocky Ford by a slim point.
“Every kid we brought scored points,” Cowboys coach JC Watt said of his 10-strong state crew.
As for bringing the team title back to Rio Blanco County for the first time in 11 years, “It’s awesome,” said Watt of upholding a strong Meeker wrestling tradition.
Bo Pipher of Paonia became a three-time state champion, capping off his high school career with a pin of Soroco’s Jace Logan in 3:20 at 145 to complete an undefeated season (48-0).
For Pipher, whose dad Andy is his coach, there was some pressure going for the three-peat.
“It’s probably a little more because there’s no redeeming yourself next year,” he said.
Then again, “This last one is sweet knowing it was my last high school match.”
Morgan Fogg, who won the 126-pound 4A state title as a junior for Thompson Valley last year, followed that up with the 2A title for Highland in the same class, pinning undefeated Anthony Quintana of Buena Vista in a quick 1:03.
Despite going from 4A to 2A, “You can’t take anyone for granted,” Fogg said, knowing he was going up against a 39-0 wrestler.
Britton Holmes of Peyton got a near fall in the third period en route to a 6-4 victory over Ethan Appenzeller of Ignacio for the 138-pound crown.
Buena Vista’s Sabyn Diamond scored four points in the third period to overtake Reagan Lane of Eads 6-4 for the 160-pound title. Teammate Keegan Wentz was the 220-pound champion, defeating previously unbeaten Kaleb Gaede of Limon 9-5 for his second state title.
Brandon Anderson of Sedgwick County/Fleming won 3-0 over Jason Murphy of John Mall at 195.