Colorado’s mandatory winter break is a double-edged sword for many winter prep sports team, as coaches never know exactly how their teams will respond to the hiatus.
Eaglecrest boys wrestling coach Javier Quintana is not immune to such worries, but his Raptors allayed some of his fears with their performance Jan. 5.
The Raptors picked up where they left off prior to break with a 50-27 dual match victory at Centennial League and district rival Cherokee Trail to build on an already strong start to the season.
“We’ve shown some signs all year that we have a pretty good team,” said Quintana, who got his 100th career dual win as a coach prior to winter break. “Breaks are really weird in general, but we had a very special week of practice and I saw so much growth from when we were allowed back into the room to today. …We’re really excited to see where this is going.”
There appears to be a lot for the Raptors to look forward to at the end of the season, even after four 5A state qualifiers from last season graduated.
With an undefeated dual start this far, Eaglecrest is a great position. It has risen to No. 7 in On The Mat’s Week 4 Class 5A rankings — which may be the highest the program has ever attained — and is just one spot behind district rival Grandview for top honors among local teams in the rankings.
The Raptors have seven ranked wrestlers currently in junior Adonias Cantu (No. 2 at 106), senior Dorian Ervin (No. 3 at 113), junior Ethan Diaz (No. 3 at 120), junior Thayne Lundy (No. 10 at 165), senior LaDainian Gordon (No. 8 at 175) and junior Dalton Leivian and senior Marcel Gordon (Nos. 10 and 14 at 190), while there is a number of other wrestlers in the middle of the lineup with winning records.
The Raptors also appeared to grow stronger in the new year as well with the addition of sophomore transfer Alijah Gabaldon, who sat out the first half of the season before he joined the lineup at 132 pounds. Gabaldon earned a win by fall in his first match and could be another solid piece for Eaglecrest.
Ervin came in with the highest expectations for the Raptors, given that he made it to the 5A 106-pound state championship match a year ago and looked to build on that. He suffered two losses at the Reno Tournament of Champions that knocked him out of the No. 1 ranking at 113 pounds, but he still aims to finish on top of the podium this season.
“Dorian’s got high expectations and we’re excited where he is at,” Quintana said of Ervin, who did not wrestle in the Cherokee Trail match. “He’s a great wrestler and we’re working hard to help him reach his goals.”
Several Eaglecrest wrestlers have improved their stock this season, including Cantu, who earned sixth place in the 106 pound bracket in Reno. He has 18 wins already this season and is currently ranked only behind Pine Creek’s Griffin Rial in 5A.
Leivian, a returning state qualifier along with Ervin and Diaz, is relishing things thus far for his Eaglecrest team.
“It’s a lot of fun to see the work pay off for all of us,” Leivian said. “It’s been awhile since we were this good and it’s fun to be a part of this team.”
The Raptors also made a trip to Des Moines for a high-level tournament, but the Reno experience may be one that pays off in the end.
“Iron sharpens iron, so that’s why we go to Reno,” Quintana said. “Guys are going 1-2, 2-2 there against some of the best kids in the nation and then come back to wrestle the kid across the street. It’s definitely something of value. It’s hard to figure out what kind of kids can go to that event and get something out of it, but the guys that we took are flourishing.”
Eaglecrest plays host to its annual Armando Rodriguez Memorial tournament — held in tribute to late assistant coach Armando Rodriguez — Jan. 13-14. The Raptors have a big Centennial League dual with Grandview waiting Jan. 26.
The whole wrestling room at Eaglecrest is currently flourishing as the girls team — which also went to Reno and is led by two-time All-American Blythe Cayko — is also in the midst of an outstanding season.
The Raptors girls — who just won the Bennett Invitational — hold the exact same spot in On The Mat’s team rankings (No. 7) as the boys team and also have eight individuals ranked in the top 10 of their respective weights.
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at email@example.com. Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports