AURORA | The state wrestling tournament returns to the big stage at Ball Arena in Downtown Denver after a year of pandemic-induced reassignment in Pueblo and a whole lot of Aurora boys wrestlers will get the chance to get the experience.
Thirty-eight boys from eight city programs — Cherokee Trail, Eaglecrest, Grandview, Overland, Rangeview, Regis Jesuit and Smoky Hill in Class 5A and Vista PEAK in 4A — earned their way through regional tournaments to get a chance to wrestle at the Ball Arena and only four of them have been there before.
Cherokee Trail senior Derek Glenn Jr. and Rangeview junior Greg Brooks — both on whom won their respective weight classes at the Class 5A Region 1 tournament Saturday at Cherokee Trail — plus senior Sonny Quintana and junior Sean Arnett of Grandview (both runners-up at the Region 2 tournament in Fort Collins) are the only ones who wrestled at the state tournament back in 2020 when it was at the venue that serves as the home of the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche.
In fact, only those four and Grandview senior Angelo Falise (who made it as a freshman in 2019) have any previous state appearances, which will make it a new experience for the vast majority.
Full brackets and pairings, here.
Here’s a look at how Aurora’s large contingent advanced:
5A REGION 1: The lion’s share of Aurora’s state qualifiers came from the regional hosted by Cherokee Trail, which saw the host Cougars come away with a program-record 11 state qualifiers, while Eaglecrest also grabbed seven state spots and Rangeview claimed one as well.
Senior Derek Glenn Jr. won the lone regional championship for Cherokee Trail at 120 pounds with a 6-3 defeat of Pomona’s Jeramiah Steele (qualifying for state for a third straight season in the process), while freshman Chance Matthews (113) and senior Zack Fish (170) finished as runner-ups. Sophomore Jay Everhart (106), junior Nate Jackson (126), junior Ellis Williams (195), senior Nate Gaye (220) and senior Kobe Euell (285) all got in automatically for coach Jeff Buck’s team by winning their third-place matches, while junior Brayden Smith (138) and seniors Finn O’Riley (152) and Matthew Buck (160) got in as they finished fourth and didn’t have to face wrestlebacks.
Eaglecrest had a single regional finalist in junior Dorian Ervin at 106 pounds — he finished second — while the remainder of coach Javier Quintana’s contingent came via some gritty victories. Senior Keegan Beckford (120), junior John Pohl (145) and senior Hunter Baird (182) all got in by virtue of victories in their respective third-place matches, while senior heavyweight Mike Witt also made it despite losing his third-place match. Sophomores Ethan Diaz (113) and Dalton Leivian (195) had to face wrestlebacks for their state spots and both were able to pin their challengers in the second period to advance.
Rangeview junior Greg Brooks virtually cruised through the tournament and was in full control of the 182-pound championship match in a 3-2 win over Pomona’s Jacob Judd, who was ranked No. 2 in the weight by On The Mat in the final regular season ranking with Brooks checking at No. 3. Junior Bennett Closset made the 160-pound fifth-place match for coach Ruben Medina’s Raiders and a win would have given him a chance to wrestleback to make state, but he lost to ranked Chris Smith of Mountain Vista.
5A REGION 2: Grandview became the second Aurora program with double-digit state qualifiers as it grabbed 10 spots in 14 weight classes, but did so without a regional champion. Regis Jesuit earned three state berths and all three came from wrestlers who were regional runners-up.
Coach Ryan Budd’s Grandview team had five wrestlers earn state berths by making the finals in their respective weights — junior Sean Arnett (120 pounds), senior Sonny Quintana (145), senior Andrew Sarro (152), junior Maxwell Kibbee (195) and senior Angelo Falise (285) — though only Sarro (who won a 9-6 decision over Legacy’s Blake Swearingen in a matchup of those in On The Mat’s top 10) emerged victorious in the final match. Junior Rhett Herman (113), senior Gabriel Lasley (138) and senior Talen Rice (182) made it easy on themselves with wins in the third-place match, while senior Josh Allen’s state place was secure despite a third-place match loss. Sophomore Nehemiah Quintana gave the Wolves their 10th qualifier when he won by fall over Fort Collins’ Alexi Lindsay in a wrestleback that was his sixth match of the day at 126 pounds.
Regis Jesuit’s trio of qualifiers were all underclassmen in freshman Garrett Reece (126 pounds) and juniors Zion Taylor (160) and Dirk Morley (220). Reece and Morley both lost close decisions against highly-ranked opponents, while Taylor lost by fall against top-ranked Murphy Menke of Ponderosa. Sophomore Daniel Lantz placed fifth for coach Brent Bieshaar’s team, but did not get a wrestleback as he had already lost to Poudre’s Nicco Bekkedahl in the consolation bracket.
5A REGION 3: Smoky Hill was the only Aurora team in Region 3 tournament at Prairie View High School and coach Jake Fisher’s Buffaloes — which had just seven entrants — came away with a state-qualifying duo in Dashawn Jenkins (106) and Zach Brophy (160), who each placed fourth in their brackets.
Jenkins won two matches by fall and suffered two losses to top-10 ranked wrestlers, but did not have to face a wrestleback after he defeated fifth-place finisher Liam Zyvolosky of Monarch in the consolation bracket, while Brophy — Aurora’s only state qualifier with a sub-.500 record — had to go the long way after losing in the first round. He won two matches by fall plus a decision and rebounded from a loss in the third-place match with a 9-6 decision over challenger Benjamin Nichols of Prairie View in a wrestleback.
5A REGION 4: Overland came away with two state qualifiers from the Region 4 tournament at Fruita Monument H.S., as coach Carter Krueger saw freshman Dominic Pacheco at 160 pounds and senior Versean Steward at 182 pounds.
Steward lost to 10th-ranked Armony Trujillo in the semifinals, then won twice in the consolation bracket and sewed up an automatic state berth with a win by fall over 11th-ranked Cesar Garcia of Adams City in the third-place match. Pacheco had a much more difficult road after losing to sixth-ranked Griffin Rial of Pine Creek in the second round, as he had to win three straight matches to get to the third-place match, then dropped a two-point decision to No. 7 Geno Gallegos of Fruita Monument. He didn’t face a wrestleback after defeated fifth-place finisher Andrew Huey of Legend in the consolations.
In his return from a lengthy absence due to injury, senior Ryan Hensley won two matches by fall in the first period and then lost a one-point decision to Pine Creek’s DJ Thompson in the semifinals — which would have qualified him for a third time — then had to withdraw from the tournament.
4A REGION 2: Vista PEAK came away from the tournament at Discovery Canyon H.S. with two state qualifiers in the heavier weights in junior 182-pounder Ezekiel Taylor (the regional runner-up) as well as junior Oscar Valdez at 195 pounds.
Taylor followed a first-round bye with two wins by fall — including one against George Washington’s Carter Bergman, who was ranked one place higher — to reach the regional championship match for coach David Benedict’s Bison, though fifth-ranked Andrew Keegan of Discovery Canyon pinned him in the final. Valdez had his progress in the championship bracket stopped in the semifinals by fifth-ranked Isaiah Jones of Mesa Ridge, but earned his way into the third-place match and won it with his third pin in four matches.
Vista PEAK’s Traevione Luster (160) and Joseph Maes (285) both won their fifth-place matches, but neither got a wrestleback after losing to the third-place loser previously.
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports