DENVER — Pepsi Center in mid- to late-February never disappoints when it comes to making history. The 2019 state wrestling tournament proved to be no different.
Usually on Saturday all eyes are geared toward the championship matches which take place later in the day. But in the morning session, the third round of consolation matches, there was vested interest across the arena bowl.
Valley's Angel Rios and Skyview's Jaslynn Gallegos needed one win to make history. They both got that win. Rios won her match via forfeit from The Classical Academy's Brendan Johnston and Gallegos pinned Moffat County's Hunter Fredrickson in 59 seconds. She advanced to the third round of consolation matches with a 9-5 decision win over Eaton's Alex Castaneda.
Rios claimed fourth in the Class 3A 106-pound bracket. She lost a 3-2 decision to Weld Central's Robert Estrada. Gallegos took fifth after pinning Pagosa Springs' Trevor Torrez in 53 seconds. When Rios won the fourth-round consolation match, a match where she had to battle and make a comeback, emotion overtook her as her arm was raised to the crowd.
"It was pretty big," Rios said. "It's what I've been working toward for the last 15 years so it was pretty relieving."
How they got there isn't the importance issue. The fact that two girls accomplished something no one has ever done is what means the most. And they pulled off the feat within seconds of each other.
"It's kind of sunk in," Gallegos. "This year, senior year. This was my year. I didn't know if I would do it, but I knew I could do it. And I knew I could be the first to do it."
Such an accomplishment at the state wrestling tournament has felt inevitable. Last year, girls wrestling was green lit as a pilot program. This year became the first pilot season for the sport, but that didn't stop Rios, Gallegos and others from competing against the boys, something they have done for a few years.
"I guess it's sinking in," Gallegos said. "It's just weird to think about."
Rios made history just a week ago when she became the first girl in Colorado to ever win a wrestling region. That win at regionals was just another sign of how much the sport continues to grow, especially within this state.
"You've seen in with the colleges offering it and the expansion of the number of colleges offering it," assistant CHSAA commissioner Ernie Derrera said. "Colorado Mesa opened a program this year. We've been offering it in the Olympics for years now and you look at one of Colorado's own in Adeline Gray. She's a four-time world champion."
In 2006, Brooke Sauer became the first girl to qualify for the state tournament when she did it for Golden. She lost her two matches but looking back at that year, she is aware of the barrier that she broke that allowed Rios and Gallegos to get to the podium.
Sauer hopes down the line that those two will understand the impact they have made on the 2019 state tournament.
"A lot of us girls out here in this situation don't realize what we're doing in the moment," Sauer said. "We just want to wrestle. Ever since I qualified I knew the next step was who is the next girl to score the first point, who is the first girl to go past the first round. This is a long time coming. We've wanted to see a girl on the podium for years."
And there was that lingering feeling that this would be the year. Three girls qualified for the state tournament this year. Isabell Durgan from Sierra Grande/Centennial qualified in the 2A 182-pound bracket, but withdrew from the tournament due to an injury.
That left just Rios and Gallegos, who didn't disappoint those who were looking to witness history.
"It's historic in the sense that we've now had 12 girls qualify and until now none of them have placed," Derrera said. "It's something that these girls have to striving for to be the one. It's also been inevitable. These girls are both ranked nationally in their weight class amongst the girls."
As girls wrestling inches closer to becoming its own sanctioned sport, chances for girls to qualify were running out. For the nine other girls that had made it to Pepsi Center, seeing not just one but two girls honored on the awards podium was something they wanted to see before those chances vanished.
"It's awesome," Sauer said. "As the girls thing takes off, I love to know that some girls got on the podium (at Pepsi Center) and they're breaking more records before they get separated."
Over time, Rios and Gallegos will be known as barrier breakers. History makers. On Feb. 23, 2019, that wasn't their concern. They only wanted to be recognized as something they felt they had earned.
They are state wrestling placers.