DENVER – It was an historic night at Pepsi Center, something that wasn’t lost on those who were there to witness greatness first-hand.
From the spectators, to the coaches and to the wrestlers themselves, everyone could feel something special taking place Saturday night. For the first time in state history, three individuals accomplished the "four-peat" of four consecutive state titles at the state wrestling tournament.
A club that was 21 strong added Pueblo County’s Brendon Garcia, Greeley Central’s Andrew Alirez and Ponderosa’s Cohlton Schultz to the elite mix. It had been 14 years since more than one wrestler won a fourth title on the same night, and never before had three done it.
“That’s amazing. I’ve said it before – my class in general has been really outstanding,” Alirez said. “They always find a way to get it done.”
Garcia was the first to make it happen, winning the Class 4A 113-pound title early Saturday night with a 7-3 decision over Pueblo East’s Xavier Espinoza. Garcia became the second Hornet to win four championships, joining Hunter Willits, who did it two years ago.
“I’ve been dreaming of that moment ever since I saw Hunter Willits get his fourth,” Garcia said. “I just wanted to be in a similar spot.”
Alirez closed out a dominating prep career by pinning Pueblo County’s Trevor Singleton in three minutes, six seconds. He finished his four-year run with a 153-1 record, the only loss coming his sophomore year at the Doc Buchanan Invitational in California.
Alirez said he’s always been able to learn more from his losses than his victories, and he took the lessons from that tournament to heart.
“It’s bittersweet, but I’m glad it happened,” Alirez said. “I think God had a plan for me, and that plan was not winning the Doc Buchanan my sophomore year.
“It’s all a process – I’m enjoying it.”
Then there was Schultz, whose high school career has been the stuff of legend. Schultz closed out the tournament in style, pinning Legend’s Colin Lavell in 52 seconds.
Schultz spent less than three minutes combined on the mat in his four matches during the tournament, and is the state’s all-time winningest wrestler with a career record of 188-2.
“It’s crazy. It’s something I’ve dreamed of ever since I was a little kid,” Schultz said. “To make it come true, it’s incredible. It’s something I’ve worked for 15, 16 years now.”
Garcia and Alirez admitted that this weekend wasn’t their strongest showing, but they still found a way to battle through it. Garcia was fighting off an illness, and spent much of Saturday sleeping. He scored three takedowns during the match, and Espinoza was never able to get a good shot on him.
While the two Pueblo wrestlers didn’t face each other this year, Garcia said he had matched up with Espinoza when the two were younger.
Asked which was tougher, winning as a freshman or a senior, Garcia didn’t hesitate with his response.
“Definitely the last one,” Garcia said. “There was no pressure on the first ones. You’re just out there to make a name for yourself on the first ones.”
The opposite held true for Alirez, who won his first title by decision as a freshman. He said the difference this year was the experience and comfort level.
That doesn’t mean he didn’t feel the weight of the expectations that come with pursuing a fourth title.
“I actually did feel some pressure coming into this tournament. Nothing like on the mat, really,” Alirez said. “Just the feeling was a little different because I had so much riding on it. I’m usually good with just kind of letting it go, because I don’t like to dwell on wins and losses.”
Schultz joined Jake Snider as four-time champions from Ponderosa. He took Lavell down quickly, and after the Legend senior briefly got to his stomach, Schultz was able to turn him back and finish off his career with one final pin.
Schultz was calm and collected while waiting to finally take his turn on the mat. He said the pressure was there, but the key is knowing how to handle it.
“The biggest thing is to make sure I realize what I’m doing, I’m doing because I love wrestling,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun being out there. That’s the biggest thing for me, is making sure I’m having fun the whole time. When you’re having fun, you don’t really feel the pressure.”
All three wrestlers will compete at the next level. Schultz, the nation’s top recruit, will attend Arizona State. Garcia is headed to Wyoming, and Alirez chose to stay close to home with the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley.
The trio expressed gratitude toward the teammates, coaches, family and fans that helped them along the way.
“I have so much appreciation for everybody,” Alirez said. “I don’t get to show it very much because I’m not kind of a sentimental guy, so they don’t get to know that. But for everybody out there supporting me, I’ve got mad love for you, and thank for everything you do.”
Four juniors – John Mall's Wesley VanMatre, Windsor’s Dominick Serrano and Isaiah Salazar and Pueblo East’s Andy Garcia – won a third state title Saturday night and will make their own bid for a fourth championship next season.