No. 1 Pomona wrestling powering toward another state title run

ARVADA — Believe it or not … Pomona wrestling team might very well be deeper than its 2019 squad that cruised last year to the program’s sixth Class 5A state team title since 2000.

Despite posting 166.5 points at the state tournament last year — 63 points more than second-place Ponderosa — Pomona coach Sam Federico didn’t hesitate when asked if his 2020 Panthers are deeper.

Pomona's Elias Gonzales, right, grabs the leg of Valor's Sam Hamilton during the 152-pound match Thursday night at Pomona High School. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)

“By far,” Federico said of Pomona that has been the top-ranked 5A team all season by On the Mat. “We had a wrestle-off today between four guys for who was going to be our 145 pounder. It was hard. They were tough matches. That’s tough for those kids who have put in a lot of time and effort. It’s tough for the kids and the coaches.”

Pomona has two returning state champions in sophomore Daniel Cardenas and junior Franklin Cruz. Right now, Cardenas (138 pounds), Cruz (195), along with Elijah Olguin (120) and Gage Bernall (160) are all ranked No. 1 in their individual weight classes.

On top those, there are 10 other Pomona wrestlers that dot the On the Mat top-10 rankings in nearly every weight class in 5A.

“We have a good brotherhood and we are always there pushing each other,” Pomona’s 182-pounder Jose Rosales said. “We go hard everyday.”

Pomona sure went hard Thursday night in its 5A Jeffco League dual against Valor Christian. The Panthers took a 73-0 victory. Pomona won all seven matches that were wrestled and took six forfeit victories.

“It looks pretty good,” Pomona sophomore Daniel Cardenas said after looking at the scoreboard with the final 73-0 win for the Panthers. “This is what we expect. We want to come out here and show dominance. We want to show everyone that we are the best team in the state.”

Pomona's Daniel Cardenas (138 pounds), top, along with Franklin Cruz (195 pounds) will look to repeat as individual state champions down at Pepsi Center coming up in mid-February. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)

Cardenas took a 20-5 technical fall in his match at 138. The sophomore is coming off a strong freshman campaign where he finished with a 34-7 record that ended with 8-5 win in the 120-pound state championship over Ponderosa’s Jaron Mahler.

“I feel more confident for sure,” Cardenas said. “Last year I had a lot more jitters before state.”

The graduation of the likes of four-time state placers Justin Pacheco and Theorius Robison on paper might look to hurt Pomona’s chances of winning a fourth team title over the past five seasons. However, youth is what is spearheading the Panthers this season.

“Sometimes we have to stop and realize how young our team is,” Federico said. “I think 10 or 11 of our weight classes are sophomores and freshmen. It’s pretty cool to see how they are able to adapt.”

With so many of his young wrestlers already with experience at the national level while wrestling before high school, Federico isn’t concerned with how is young wrestlers will handle the pressure of regionals and state coming up in less than a month.

“I don’t think they’ll be shell shocked by it,” Federico said of the atmosphere down at Pepsi Center. “I think they’ll just go out and compete.”

Pomona's Jeremiah Steele puts the finishing touches on his first-period pin Thursday night against Valor Christian. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)