DENVER – History was made for four Colorado high school wrestlers on Saturday at Pepsi Center.
But it started on a Saturday in February 2017, where Windsor High School freshman Dominick Serrano faced the most important two minutes of his wrestling life.
Wrestling in the Class 4A 120-pound state final, Serrano was knotted 0-0 with Pueblo County’s Nathan Bonham at the end of the second period. The choice of position for the third and final regulation period was Serrano’s.
He took bottom. Three seconds later, he escaped.
And he’s been on top ever since.
Serrano became the 25th wrestler in Colorado high school history to win four state titles on Saturday at Pepsi Center, and he made even more history by becoming just the second to accomplish that feat without a single loss in high school competition.
Serrano’s nose was bloodied early in the first period of his Class 4A 132-pound championship match against Broomfield’s John Beau Hostler, but the Wizard senior slapped the mat, stayed aggressive, and ultimately earned a 22-8 major decision for his 168th and final prep victory.
“I remember that night clearly,” Serrano said of his first state title, a mere minutes after winning his fourth. “I knew if I kept it up, I could do something special.”
And did he ever.
Serrano joined Arvada West’s Kyle Sand (2001-04) as the only wrestler in state history to win four state titles with an unbeaten record.
Before the finals began on Saturday night, a montage that highlighted the previous 24 four-timers in the state, including Sand, played over the Pepsi Center video boards.
Next year, Serrano – who is committed to wrestle and attend school at Division I Nebraska – will be a part of that montage. He hopes it serves as an inspiration to the future four-timers who might be in attendance.
“Learning lessons, win or lose, that kind of defines who you are,” Serrano said. “That’s my biggest thing, that’s how I improved a lot … the mind game is a huge part.
“It’s a dream come true.”
In the end, winning a state was a dream come true for 56 wrestlers across four classifications on Saturday night, but perhaps most especially for Serrano and the three others who became four-time state champions.
In Class 2A, John Mall’s Wesley VanMatre became the 26th wrestler in state history to etch his name onto an elite page of the history books after winning his fourth state title via a 10-3 decision over Lyons’ David Gardner. VanMatre capped a 42-2 senior campaign and became just the eighth four-timer to win in four different weight classes.
“I think it’s going to take a while for that to sink in,” VanMatre said. “All of the time, the hard work … it’s all worth it.”
VanMatre’s road to becoming a four time state championship was never easy; every point on his journey, including a 3-2 win in the semifinals as a freshman at 120 pounds, ultimately mattered in a huge way.
But VanMatre, also the first wrestler from John Mall High School in Walsenburg to win four state wrestling titles, never wavered.
“Coming from a small town, everyone is behind you. That’s pretty special,” VanMatre said. “All of the hard work I put in, day in and day out. This was my goal. It’s been my goal for a long time.
As if two Pepsi Center standing ovations weren’t enough, all eyes returned to the 4A mat at 182 pounds, where Windsor’s Isaiah Salazar aimed to become the 27th member of the state’s four-timers’ club.
And after racking up a large lead with a bevy of takedowns and near-fall combinations, Salazar ultimately pinned Cole Simmons of Montrose in 2:35 to make history of his own.
Salazar’s first state championship came in Class 3A while at Eaton, but for the last three seasons he has been an integral part of a Windsor core which capped a magical run with two, four-timers and a Class 4A team championship.
“It’s awesome winning four (titles), but doing it as a team makes it much more special,” Salazar said.
While Salazar certainly made things look easy at times during his run to four championships, the world of wrestling is often unrelenting and filled with challenges.
It took a unique type of focus, and a special practice room that produced five state champions – including the first pair of teammates to win four state titles in the same year -- on Saturday night, to get Salazar to his ultimate goal.
“Just blocking everything out and staying focused,” Salazar said was the hardest part about it all. “I just had to take it match by match, and had to stay focused the whole time.”
In the last match of the Class 4A tournament, there was even more history to be made. That’s where Pueblo East’s Andy Garcia, by way of a 5-0 decision, claimed his fourth state championship.
Garcia earned all four of his gold members at heavyweight, becoming the first of the 28 four-timers to accomplish that feat while also becoming the first wrestler from Pueblo East to join the elite prep wrestling club.
In the end it wasn’t the most important thing in Garcia’s life; he was already looking forward to celebrating his younger brother’s birthday the next day.
But it was still history. And it was still a storybook ending for Garcia.
“You work for this when you’re younger, and you finally get to see the fruits of your labor … It’s nice,” Garcia said. “It only takes eight matches to win a state title: four at regionals and four at state. All it takes is your mindset. If you’re willing to do it, you can do it. That’s about it.
“Wrestling is just a part of my life, it isn’t my life. It’s a nice little chapter.”