DENVER — For the Wray Eagles, the night started with redemption. It ended the same way as last year's state wrestling tournament; with an all-time record.
For the 14th time, the Eagles are the wrestling champion of Colorado. It's a number that for the foreseeable future will go unmatched as was their 13th title that they claimed on this very same weekend a year ago. It’s also the third consecutive title for the Eagles.
"They set their goals the beginning of the year and the whole team's been working their butts off and it's nice to see it paid off," coach Matt Brown said. "Last year we went 0-4 in finals and I think that shocked them a little bit and I think they went after a little harder this year."
The difference in this win was the early emotional boost that came with it. In the second match of the night on the Class 2A mat, senior Cade Rockwell made up for last year's painful defeat in the 113-pound title match. When the final whistle blew, the pain of last year and weight of defeat lifted away as his arms extended into the air.
It capped a remarkable tournament run where the Eagles had wrapped up the team title before they marched their four title contenders out in the Parade of Champions. They finished with 162.5 points. Rocky Ford was the runner-up with 123.5 points.
"Our team is great," Rockwell said. "We all love each other. All we care about is wrestling and sticking up for going to each other all the time."
For a year Rockwell worked through the sweat and tears. Midway through his match he had to add so blood into the mix. Despite a stoppage to attend to a bloody nose, he kept his focus on Cedaredge's Lane Hunsberger and built a 12-2 lead as the final whistle blew, his hand was raised with a 12-2 major decision victory.
"He was talking to me the whole match on top and you have to let it go," Rockwell said. "You wrestle your match and you humble yourself and you do the best you can."
Rye's Michael Atencio, the cause of Rockwell's anguish from a year ago, also walked off the floor at Pepsi Center with a victory and a second state championship. He claimed the 120-pound championship. A junior, Atencio has a chance to become a three-time champion at next year's tournament.
Oran Huff out of Lyons derailed a different bid for a third title. The defending champion of the 126-pound bracket, he held off Cedaredge junior Trey Geyer, a 2019 state champion at 120 via a 4-1 decision. Had Geyer won the match, he would've looked to 2021 for a chance to claim a fourth title.
"I knew I could beat him," Huff said. "Just like last year I came out with confidence in my coaching and my training and my ability. That's what it takes."
It wasn't too long after Huff's win that a fourth state title opportunity made its way to Mat 2. John Mall's Wesley VanMatre battled to a 10-3 decision win over Lyons' David Gardner.
VanMatre's title victory will certainly be a chapter in one of the most historic nights of Colorado wrestling history. He shared the honor with three other competitors marking 2020 the year that the most four-time champions were crowned.
It's just one aspect of this year's competition that makes the event special, an event where Wray walked into Saturday night with a 14th team title already in hand. It might be the most in state history, but Brown would never allow the quantity to water down the significance of the achievement. Tyler Collins also claimed a title at 152 and four other Eagles found their way to the podium..
"The time they put in and all the offseason stuff made this group special," he said. "It's an awesome group to be a part of."