DENVER – If trying to win his first state championship wasn’t enough stress, Rocky Ford senior Nate Finnell had the weight of his entire team on his shoulders Saturday night.
Finnell came into the 220-pound title match with the Meloneers trailing Meeker in the Class 2A state tournament standings by one point. A victory would send Rocky Ford to its first championship in 25 years – a loss would have wrapped it up for the Cowboys.
Finnell rose to the occasion in the biggest way possible, landing a takedown in the final seconds of the second period. He kept Sedgwick County/Fleming’s Levi Davis down for the entire third period to earn a 4-2 decision and a state title for his teammates – the first since the AA crown in 1990.
“My coach told me before not to worry about, just go out and wrestle your match,” Finnell said. “I did that and got it done – what means more than anything to me is that team title.”
Rocky Ford finished the three-day tournament with 134 points and two individual champions. Meeker placed second with 131 points, followed by Paonia (125.5), Centauri (109.5) and Norwood/Nucla (98).
“We’ve lost some state titles that same way, by one or two points, two years in a row,” Meloneers coach Mike Jurney said. “These kids just came out and wrestled their hearts out. For it to come down for us to win a match for Nate, it was just amazing.”
Finnell and sophomore Jacob Rodriguez claimed their first state titles, with Rodriguez winning the 106-pound title with a 5-3 decision over Akron’s Tanner Watson. But the team championship ultimately ruled the night.
“It means everything in the world,” Jurney said. “These kids have put in a tremendous amount of work. We’ve been close, knocking on the door, but to finally get through the door is fantastic. It’s great tradition and a great town, and we’re happy to bring it home to them.”
It was a record-setting night overall in the 2A ranks. Paonia’s Jesse Reed became the 18th Colorado wrestler to win four state titles with a victory at 126 pounds. Eagles junior Bo Pipher (138 pounds) and senior Zach Milner (160) each took home a second consecutive title as well – Pipher landed a first-period pin of Baca County’s J.D. Chenoweth, and Milner won 3-2 in overtime over Norwood/Nucla’s Tim Armintrout.
Meeker junior T.J. Shelton and Centauri senior Jareb Aziz joined the three-time state champion club. Shelton pinned Centennial’s Jose Cisneros in 50 seconds to claim the 170-pound crown and set himself up for a shot at a fourth title next season.
“It’s amazing. It’s been amazing every state title I’ve had,” Shelton said. “It’s been a great experience with great people and great matches.”
Aziz closed out his prep career with an undefeated season after pinning Fowler’s Blaine Larson in 3:51.
Aziz said he would never have reached this point without the help of his coaches. Going out with three pins in four matches just made it that much sweeter.
“It felt good. I wrestled him last week, so I knew it would be a little bit tougher this week,” Aziz said. “But I knew I could cap it off and win it again.”
A handful of returning state champions also brought home a second state title. John Mall sophomore John Andreatta posted a 15-0 technical fall at 113 over Centauri’s Quinton Montague. Norwood/Nucla senior Talon Harris pinned Lyons’ William Hickman at 120, and Holly’s Ryan Nordyke pinned Meeker’s Anthony Watt in 4:49 at 145 pounds.
Swink senior Austin Coy capped a prep career that saw four trips to the state finals with his first championship. Coy withstood a late reversal for a 3-2 decision at 132 over Highland’s Jake Trujillo, who almost took it home with a near fall before time ran out.
After three consecutive losses in championship matches, Coy made the most of his final chance.
“If you get it early on, then compared to that every time is a failure,” he said. “Building up to it in the long run, I’m glad it worked out this way.”
Buena Vista junior Keegan Wentz also got over the hump with a 2-0 decision to land the 182 title over Sedgwick County/Fleming’s Brandon Anderson. Wentz lost in the finals a year ago but put that behind him Saturday.
Crowley County senior Bryce McCracken posted a 4-1 decision at 152 over Meeker’s Casey Turner, and Limon junior Jayden Hilferty also earned his first state title with a 3-1 victory over Crowley County’s Keith Dunnagan in double overtime at heavyweight.