The best individual place at the state wrestling tournament for the Vista PEAK boys is third place, but the Bison have possibly two wrestlers who can surpass it this season.

Among the 34 qualifiers from nine city programs headed to the Feb. 16-18 Class 5A and 4A boys state wrestling tournaments at Ball Arena is Vista PEAK, which boasts the senior duo of Ezekiel Taylor and Oscar Valdez, who both have their eyes on state titles.

In their final matches on their home floor, Taylor and Valdez won their respective weights at the 4A Region 2 tournament and did nothing to tarnish their resumes as contenders to at least make it to the state championship match. Taylor and Valdez both hold On the Mat’s No. 2 ranking in 4A at 190 and 215 pounds, respectively, and have designs on standing atop the podium.

Both are returning state qualifiers, — Taylor finished 2-2 and came one win from making the placing round a year ago and Valdez won one of his three matches — and both vow that they will be able to handle the big stage better this time around.

— Full list of Aurora state qualifiers by school with regional places, here

— Brackets and pairings for the 2023 boys 5A/4A state wrestling tournaments, here

Completing Vista PEAK’s state contingent is freshman Ian Bacon, who had already made the state tournament by making it to the 113-pound final, but put himself in better position with an epic victory. Down 12-0 to Palmer Ridge’s William Betts in the third period, Bacon — whose twin sister, Amelia, qualified for the girls state tournament — turned the tables in the third period for a win by fall.

At the same Region 2 tournament, Aurora Central netted two spots in the 4A state tournament for seniors Juan Cooper and Van Nawl, who become the program’s first state qualifiers since 2020 and its first set of multiple qualifiers in at least a handful of seasons.

Nawl got in with a fourth-place finish at 165 pounds, while Cooper had to survive a wrestleback after he lost in the fourth place match. He pinned Jeremiah Woolery of Palisade in the second period and broke down with emotion as he earned a state trip in his first season since picking up wrestling.

No Aurora program was able to hit double digits in qualifiers this season after Cherokee Trail and Grandview did it last season, but the Wolves lead the way for the city with eight that helped them win the 5A Region 3 team title.

Three of coach Ryan Budd’s qualifiers are returning and one is a returning state placer in senior Max Kibbee, who finished third last season at 195 pounds. Kibbee won his region and takes a sparkling 32-5 record into state with designs on a run to wrestle for a state title. Junior Nehemiah Quintana went 1-2 at state last season and senior Rhett Herman finished 0-2 and both get another chance to better those results, while senior heavyweight Cayden Bird is a two-time qualifier with two years in between. He qualified as a freshman in 2020 before he missed out the last two seasons due to injury.

Among Grandview’s first-time qualifiers is a pair of standout freshmen in Gunner Lopez (132 pounds) and Jonathan Montes Gonzales (138), who both made regional championship matches. Gonzales won his match, while Lopez was runner-up. Sophomore Charlie Herting was on pace to make state a year ago until he got hurt, but he made it this season and boasts a 38-8 record.

Eaglecrest got six qualifiers out of Region 4 as five made the finals, but only sophomore Alijah Gabaldon (126 pounds) ended up on top. Gabaldon, a transfer, is 24-4 after winning a regional championship.

Coach Javier Quintana’s Raptors — who competed for most of the season without Dorian Ervin, who made a state championship match last season — have two returning state qualifiers in juniors Ethan Diaz at 120 pounds and Dalton Leivian at 215. Diaz won a match at state last year.

Eaglecrest’s first-time qualifiers include junior 106-pounder Adonias Cantu, who placed at the Reno Tournament of Champions.

Cherokee Trail has the most returning qualifiers of any city program with four in seniors Ellis Williams (the Region 2 champion at 175 pounds), and Nate Jackson (126), junior Jay Everhart (113) and sophomore Chance Matthews. Matthews won three matches at state and placed sixth a year ago, while Everhart also earned a win for coach Jeff Buck’s Cougars, who graduated two wrestlers to made state finals a year ago.

Regis Jesuit has a handful of qualifiers and like Vista PEAK could get big points from at least two members. Sophomore Garrett Reece (132) and senior Dirk Morley (285) both placed fourth last season at state and both enter state as good bets to make it to title matches. The other three qualifiers for coach Dan Wrona’s Raiders are first-timers, including freshman Richard Avila, the Region 3 120-pound runner-up.

Smoky Hill has two returning state qualifiers in sophomore Dashawn Jenkins at 106 pounds (with a strong 18-4 record) and junior Zach Brophy at 165 pounds. Both will continue to look to get their arms raised at Ball Arena for the first time.

Rangeview and Overland have one qualifier apiece in senior Greg Brooks and junior James Rada Scales, respectively.

Brooks is a four-time state qualifier who won Region 2 at 190 pounds to move to 30-1 on the season and he is also in search of a third straight trip to the medal podium, while Rada Scales earned his first state opportunity.

Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports

Courtney Oakes is sports Editor and photographer with Sentinel Colorado. A Denver East High School alum. He came to the Sentinel in 2001 and since then has received a number of professional awards from...

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