DENVER — This is a banner Pueblo County High School wrestler Hunter Willits didn’t want to carry for his family at the Class 4A state wrestling tournament.
Hunter (138 pounds) and his fraternal twin Grant (113) were trying to become the first wrestlers in Pueblo prep history to win back-to-back state championships in their freshman and sophomore seasons. Grant won at 106 pounds last year and Hunter was at 132 pounds, and they also became the only twins from Pueblo to win state.
“I knew how much we both wanted to win state again,” Hunter said.
The plan was on track as Hunter and Grant, who are both ranked No. 1 in their respective weights by On the Mat, easily won their first-round matches Thursday night at the Pepsi Center.
However, on Friday morning, the twins saw their dream of sharing gold medals again vanish when Grant failed to make weight. Grant, with a 3-pound weight allowance, could weigh up to 116 pounds Friday and he weighed in at 116.1 pounds, and thus was disqualified.
“It was one of the worst feelings ever,” Grant said about weighing too heavy to compete. “I’ve never missed weight in my life.”
Hunter also couldn’t believe his brother’s tourney was over in an instant.
“I was crushed,” Hunter said. “I didn’t know what to do. I knew what I had to do, but at first I couldn’t control myself because I knew Grant didn’t deserve that. He worked out (late Thursday night) to make the weight.”
Rick Willits, the twins’ father and assistant coach for the Hornets, said Grant has weighed in 300-plus times since he started competing at age 4 and never missed weight. Rick won a 3A state championship at 132 pounds in 1980 while competing for Pueblo East. The elder Willits then went on to win an NAIA national championship at 150 pounds at Adams State College in 1985.
After experiencing an emotional morning, Hunter was able to regroup and register a 17-1 technical fall over Mountain View’s Erik Lobato-Contreras Friday night.
“I didn’t feel any extra pressure,” said Hunter, who improved his season record to 37-1. “I got myself under control. I wasn’t as emotional as I was in the morning. I just went out there and did my job.”
Up next for Hunter is title match against Windsor’s Gerald Mack (35-9) at 7 p.m. Saturday. The unranked Mack shocked Thompson Valley’s Collin Williams (39-8), who was ranked No. 2 by On the Mat, 6-5 in the semis.
“I’m just going to continue to cheer on my brother and hope for the best,” Grant said. “I know he should win state. He has the right mentality. So me missing weight and not making history with him isn’t going to mess him up.”
Hunter acknowledged he has extra motivation to get another gold medal because of what transpired with his brother.
“I haven’t really talked to him about the whole situation,” Hunter said. “He and I do everything together. We go to school every day together and we have all our classes together, and we wrestle every day together. I know if we talk about what happened we will both probably start crying because he wanted to win state so bad. I’m sad for him, but I just can’t let it bother me. I just want to win state for me and him (Saturday).”
In addition to Hunter, Pueblo County’s Josiah Nava (106 pounds) and Chris Sandoval (126) also advanced to the finals. Nava (37-4) meets Widefield’s Stephen Debelko (32-4). Sandoval takes on Falcon’s Jacob Butler (15-6).
The Hornets are a distant second in the team standings behind pre-tournament favorite Thompson Valley.
WELCOME BACK 5A KINGS: While some wrestlers are looking to win their first gold medals Saturday, others are returning to try and win state again.
Pomona’s Tomas Gutierrez, who won state at 106 pounds last year, is in the 113-pound finals against Arvada West’s Cody Fatzinger. Legacy’s Ryan Deakin also returns to chase gold as he collides with Poudre’s Jacob Greenwood. Deakin was a 113-pound state winner last year.
Arvada West’s Payton Tawater, a 145-pound champ a year ago, is in the 152-pound finals against Rocky Mountain’s Roman Ortiz.
At 170 pounds, Pomona transfer Deyaun Trueblood is in the championship against Arvada West’s Taylor Bergquist. Trueblood was a state winner at 152 pounds in 2014 for Gateway.
Bergquist and Trueblood are ranked No. 1 and No. 2 by On the Mat.
Grand Junction’s Jacob Trujillo, meanwhile, is trying to win his third title in a row at 160 pounds. He clashes with Douglas County’s Robert Grambell.
Arvada West’s Devin Rothrock, a 195-pound winner last season, is in the finals against Grand Junction’s Tyler Zook at 220 pounds.
HELLO COUSIN: When wrestlers meet up against semifinal foes it’s not uncommon for opponents to know each other.
The Class 4A 132-pound semifinal bout between Canon City’s Zac Hanenburg and Air Academy’s Peter Tyler Hanenburg took on another angle as the two wrestlers are cousins. Peter Tyler was able to get the upper hand, winning 7-0.