Jeff Buck has asked a question for 16 years that has finally been answered.
Every day during every wrestling season, the longtime Cherokee Trail head coach queried his team: “Who wants to be the first one on the wall?”
Many came close to putting their names up on the wrestling room’s blank championship wall, but sophomore Derek Glenn Jr. finally came up with the answer Feb. 22, when he broke the long-suffering program’s title drought.
“You only get one chance to be the first, so might as well go for it,” Glenn Jr. said in the back hallway of the Pepsi Center after his historic 4-2 victory over Grandview’s Frankie Sanchez Jr. in an all-Aurora Class 5A 106-pound state championship match.
“It’s going to be weird to see my name up there since we haven’t had a state champion before,” he added.
Glenn Jr. won’t be the only name on the wall after what unfolded on the final night of the three-day tournament, as junior teammate Sam Hart — who many thought would be the one to break the drought — joined him by winning the 220-pound championship to complete an undefeated season.
Buck had sat in the corner at Pepsi Center for a handful of previous championship near-misses — two for Max Gonzales (2016 & 2017) and one for Zeke Silva (2017), Josh Richardson (2017) and Hart last season — so he was overjoyed when the clock finally expired and Cherokee Trail had its title.
“I can’t even tell you how excited I am,” said Buck, who leaped out of his chair, picked up Glenn Jr. and carried him off the mat in triumph.
On a night in which three Cherokee Trail wrestlers made the finals — which also included senior Julian Williams at 285 pounds — Glenn Jr. got the first chance to be the first state champion by virtue of wrestling in the lightest weight class.
The son of former Smoky Hill wrestling star Derek Glenn got it done and against a familiar opponent in Sanchez Jr., who had beaten him by technical fall last season and by a 3-1 count when they met in Centennial League dual competition.
This time, it was Glenn Jr. who came out firing with an opening takedown — neutralized later by two escapes for Sanchez Jr. — and then got the winning two points with another takedown with 20 seconds left in the final period.
“I didn’t really know how much time was left, but I knew I had to score,” Glenn Jr. said. “I wasn’t trying to go into overtime, I was just trying to get the match done.”
Glenn Jr. has one title down and two more years left, giving him a chance to top his father, who won two titles in the 1970s.
Hart — who came up short last season with a loss to undefeated Hunter Tobiasson in the 220 pound final — came into the season with the belief he could go undefeated on top of winning the program’s first state championship.
Only one of those things came true — the undefeated part — thanks to Glenn Jr., but Hart capped one of the most dominant seasons ever by an Aurora wrestler with a 4-2 victory over Brighton’s Dylan BravoPacker in the final.
“I set my goals high and to go undefeated and win a state championship like I planned is an amazing feeling,” said Hart, an Ohio State-bound football player who took just one week off in between seasons before getting to work on the mat.
Added Buck about Hart: “To be a state champion at any weight in any classification is an accomplishment, but to go undefeated — especially against the schedule we had in state and out of state — is an even tougher task.”
Hart becomes the latest state wrestling champion in his own family, following his older brother Alex, who won the 220 pound weight class for Prior Lake High School at the Minnesota state wrestling tournament in 2014 and went on to play linebacker at New Mexico.
Cherokee Trail had a chance to get greedy and capture three titles, but Williams dropped a 5-2 decision to Columbine’s Zach Schraeder.
A dominant force on the Cherokee Trail football team as a linebacker and running back, Williams returned to wrestling as a senior after missing the past two years. He used his outstanding athleticism and strength to make it all the way to the state final before giving away 80 pounds (which he had just about every time he wrestled heavyweights) finally stymied him.
Schraeder’s technical ability, in addition to his size and strength, proved to be too much for Williams.
“They are all heavy, but that was one of the only dudes where I actually felt his weight,” Williams said. “He was just so powerful and strong and it was hard to move him, but it was alright.
“After missing my sophomore and junior year, I’m glad I came back for senior year, no matter the result. I’ll never forget this year and that match.”
Boosted by the championship results, Cherokee Trail scored 90 points to set the program record and finish in fourth place, which far surpassed the previous top state team result of eighth (achieved in 2010 and 2017).
Buck hopes the program continues its upward trajectory, especially since Glenn Jr. and Hart both will be back in the room next year, with their names as state champions finally on the wall.
“I think our room will change; our kids know it can be done and now the question is who can do it now that it’s been done?” Buck said. “Maybe this opens the door for some other kids.”
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports
CHEROKEE TRAIL CLASS 5A STATE WRESTLING CHAMPIONSHIP MATCHES
106 pounds: DEREK GLENN JR. (CHEROKEE TRAIL) dec. FRANKIE SANCHEZ JR. (GRANDVIEW), 4-2
220 pounds: SAM HART (CHEROKEE TRAIL) dec. Dylan BravoPacker (Brighton) 4-2;
285 pounds: Zach Schraeder (Columbine) dec. JULIAN WILLIAMS (CHEROKEE TRAIL), 5-2