ARVADA — This is the time of year that Jefferson wrestling coach Oscar Fonseca really loves.
“It’s a lot of fun to watch these kids’ hard work come to fruition,” Fonseca said during the finals of the Ron Granieri Memorial Invitational at Arvada West High School on Saturday. “Watching them climb that mountain and hopefully we are peaking at regionals and state. I love watching the progress from the beginning. This is really when it picks up for us.”
It really picked up for three of the Saints’ top wrestlers during the two-day tournament. Sophomore Angelo Lozado (113 pounds), along with seniors Zander Condit (145 pounds) and Nick Gallegos (152 pound) worked their way into the finals Saturday afternoon. Lozado, Condit and Gallegos all faced No. 1 ranked wrestlers in either Class 5A or 4A in the championship matches.
While Lozado (Class 3A state champion at 113 last year) and Condit (three-time state placer) came up short in their title matches, Gallegos pulled off one of the more dramatic wins in the title bouts.
“That was really big,” Gallegos said. “Having a good match like that makes me feel pretty good.”
Gallegos trailed Thomas Jefferson junior Isaisa Estrado — ranked No. 1 at 152 pounds in Class 4A — 1-0 in the final seconds of the third period. Gallegos was able to snatch Estrado’s leg and get a 2-point takedown with 20 seconds remaining.
“For him to stay calm, get his setups going and get it done at the very end was fantastic,” Fonseca said of Gallegos pulling off the 2-1 win.
Jefferson ended up placing third in one of the tougher tournament heading toward regionals coming up next month. The Saints have been ranked No. 1 in the 3A team rankings by On The Mat for the majority of the season, but slipped behind Alamosa and Valley this week.
“We want to win the state (team) title, but we want to get better as well,” Gallegos said. “We just want to get better. If we get better that gives us better odds of winning that state title.”
Jefferson has never won a state wrestling team title. The school's last team state title was back in 1968 when the Saints won a state baseball title.
“The team goal is always there, but we focus more on the work ethic,” Fonseca said. “The work ethic is going to prepare us for that end goal.”
The combination of Lozado, Condit, Gallegos, along with the return of senior Jimmy Ramirez III give the Saints a shot to make history at Pepsi Center coming up in late February. Ramirez hasn't wrestled since his freshman season due to a pair of season-ending knee injuries.
Lozado’s 7-4 loss to Brighton junior Kenny Sailas — No. 1 in 5A 113-pound rankings — didn’t discourage the sophomore.
“I’m just going to go back in the (wrestling) room and keep working hard,” said Lozado, who added he doesn’t feel extra pressure being a defending state champion and is more confident on the mat this season then he was as a freshman.
Pueblo East ran away with the team title Saturday. The Eagles posted 243 team points with four individual champions.
The favorite to win the 5A team title this season — Pomona — was at Arvada West on Saturday, but a lot of the Panthers' top wrestlers didn’t compete. Because Pomona goes to some out-of-state tournaments during the season they have to make sure wrestlers don’t go over the match limit set by the Colorado High School Activities Association.
A big difference for the tournament this season was a name change. The annual wrestling tournament that A-West have hosted for decades was changed to the Ron Granieri Memorial Invitational in honor of the former wrestling coach. Granieri coached the Wildcats to 5A team state titles in 2014 and 2015. The longtime coach, who also spent time at Standley Lake, passed away last year after the wrestling season.