LAKEWOOD — The announcement this week that the state wrestling tournament won’t be held at its usual site was another change during this ever changing 2020-21 prep sports season in Colorado.
However, the news that Ball Arena (formerly Pepsi Center) won’t be the site of the state tournament next month hasn’t dampened Pomona’s focus on going after its fifth Class 5A team title over the past six years and eighth team title since 2000.
“I don’t mind. I really don’t,” Pomona coach Sam Federico said of the news coming down Wednesday that all classifications for the state tournament will be held at the Southwest Motors Events Center on the Colorado State Fairgrounds in Pueblo. “I’m glad we have one. I’d do it in South Dakota if we had to. Anywhere is good for me.”
The Panthers — ranked No. 1 in 5A by Tim Yount of On the Mat — has an extremely deep squad this season. Pomona has 11 wrestlers that are ranked in the top-5 of their weight class in the new rankings released this week.
“This is probably one of the best teams we’ve had in years,” Pomona sophomore Jakob Romero said after the Panthers’ tri meet Thursday at Lakewood High School. “We are strong everywhere. We can bump guys up and bump guys down. I’ve wrestled with everyone on this team for the past five-plus years. I’ll do anything for these guys.”
Pomona actually brought just a handful of its varsity wrestlers to the duals against Standley Lake and Lakewood. Still, the Panthers dominated with a 72-6 win over the Gators and 58-14 victory against the Tigers.
Two of the top Pomona wrestlers that saw some action with Romero and junior Jacob Judd. Romero took a 21-5 tech fall victory and managed a pin in the first period in his second match. Judd grabbed a pair of pins in his matches at 170 pounds.
“We are deep, but there are some good teams out there,” Federico said. “We’ll see this weekend when we wrestling Ponderosa and Brighton, two teams that are always good. We’ve got to stay healthy and keep working hard. If we do that good things will happen.”
The Panthers head to Ponderosa High School on Saturday for a pair of dual matches against No. 2 Ponderosa and No. 3 Brighton. It might be one of the best tests for Pomona before heading to regionals scheduled for March 5 and 6.
Federico doesn’t believe the last of tournaments will effect the Panthers. He had a lot of his wrestlers compete at a national tournament in Utah before the season started. Most of his year-round wrestlers have been able to compete at tournament during the COVID pandemic.
“There was so much stop and go,” Federico said of changing on the fly this season. “I’m just glad we got it pinned down and we are wrestling now. It’s good to see the guys out wrestling now.”
Romero is one of those wrestlers who is glad to be back on the mats. The sophomore that placed second at state last year at 126 pounds talked Thursday night about his own battle with COVID-19.
Romero actually came down with COVID in November. He went through return-to-play protocol to return to the mats after his bout with the virus.
“My family got it. We are all athletes in the family,” Romero said. “We didn’t get it too bad, but I did see some in pact on my training and endurance. I took two weeks off, but still wasn’t myself. It’s just different for everyone.”
The sophomore has a realist perspective on what high school wrestling will look like for at least the near future.
“With COVID, it doesn’t seem to be dying down,” Romero said. “This may be the new norm for us. At least for a little bit.”
Romero admitted he was upset that the state tournament was moved from Ball Arena to Pueblo, but having a state tournament March 13 is what is important.
“In the end, I’m just glad we have a season,” Romero said.
Judd mirrors how everything can change. As a freshman his first tournament he wrestled at 106 pounds. He eventually placed 6th at the state tournament at 113. He wrestled at 132 and 145 pounds last year, qualifying for the state tournament at 145.
Now, Judd is all the way up to the 170-pound weight class and is ranked No. 3.
“I’ve been able to learn a whole bunch wrestling with a lot of different partners,” Judd said. “Most of the kids on the club don’t grow as fast as me. I’ve been able to practice with everyone in there.”
While Pomona has plenty of youth with a dozen varsity wrestlers either freshmen, sophomores or juniors this season they don’t want to take the 2021 season as a throwaway season.
“I’m trying to get the best out of the year,” Judd said. “One more year after this and I want to get two (individual) state championships.”