Since 2007, the Regis Jesuit wrestling team has departed the state tournament just once without a champion.
It’s always been a quality over quantity proposition over that time for the Raiders, who have had plenty of quality in recent years, especially in now-graduated three-time state champion John Crowley.
Junior Grant Neal expects to keep Regis Jesuit’s state championship tradition alive.
Like John Hooper in 2007, Denzel Washington in 2008 and Crowley in each of the past three seasons — which made him the most decorated Aurora prep wrestler of all-time — Neal believes he’ll be on the top of the 195-pound medal podium when the three-day Class 5A state tournament concludes on Feb. 23 at the Pepsi Center. (Full time schedule, here.)
“I’m ready, I’m going for it,” Neal said after his 8-3 domination of Abraham Lincoln’s JD Rosales in the 5A Region 1 championship match Feb. 16 at Smoky Hill.
“I’m doing it for the team,” he added.
Neal didn’t place in his previous two trips to the Pepsi Center, but with a 37-3 record and a favorable seed befitting a regional champion, the physical junior plans to follow in the championship footsteps laid out in the previous six seasons.
First-year Regis Jesuit coach Danny Bieshaar — a state placer himself during his career at his alma mater — believes in Neal’s prospects.
“Grant’s our hammer,” Bieshaar said. “Every year since 2007, we’ve only had one year where we haven’t had a champ. We’ll have Grant this year, that’s how it will be.”
Neal won’t be alone at state, as senior 120-pounder and team captain Josh Redman — who has a rivalry with Neal for most wins, currently owning a three-win edge as he is 40-4 — also qualified, as did sophomore Donovan Ronan at 126 pounds and freshman Nick Elgin at 220 pounds.
A state qualifier as a sophomore, Redman missed out last season after a discouraging regional, but is relishing another chance at state. Bieshaar is grateful that Ronan — who won a wrestleback — and Elgin make their first state trip as youngsters.
Aurora has another state championship threat in Overland senior 220-pounder Amer Tipura, who comes into state at 39-1.
Fresh off a 3-2 overtime victory against Columbine’s Brian Mayberry — who was undefeated and ranked No. 1 at the time — in the Region 4 championship match at Standley Lake, Tipura is ready to take his final shot at a state title, which would be the program’s first since Dale King in 1996.
Tipura tuned up for state with a 3-2 overtime victory against Columbine’s Brian Mayberry — who dealt him his only defeat — in the Region 4 championship match at Standley Lake. The two are on opposite sides of the state bracket and could meet again with the title on the line.
“It was exciting and it will be exciting the next time they meet again, which I believe will happen,” Overland coach Bert Dalton said. “Amer has one good kid in his side of the bracket, but if anybody beats him, it would be an upset.”
Though he’s making his first trip to state, Dalton believes budding senior Javier Alonso could place in a wide-open 182-pound bracket, while heavyweight Anthony Childs could surprise after winning a late wrestleoff before regionals and making his way through to state.
Cherokee Trail has the most wrestlers among Aurora teams in the state bracket, as six Cougars made it through the 5A Region 3 tournament in Loveland.
Coach Jeff Buck has the second-most qualifiers in program history following a high of seven in 2010 and also has Cherokee Trail’s first three-time state qualifier in senior 132-pounder Bruno Nicoletti.
Nicoletti, fifth last season at 106 pounds, has jumped up several weight classes and took fourth in a loaded regional, but Buck believes nobody will be excited to face him at state. That could be said for any of his wrestlers for that matter, including four seniors — including 170-pound regional champion Diego Rogel — making their first state trips and rapidly-improving junior 152-pound Harley Korte.
“It’s always tough when you get to the state tournament, but I think every one of our kids has a great opportunity to win a couple of matches,” Buck said.
Besides Nicoletti, Eaglecrest heavyweight Mike Howshar is the only returning state placer among Aurora qualifiers.
Howshar — sixth last season — feels much better equipped to make a deep run at state.
“I’m going to be a lot higher, top three at least,” said Howshar, who will wrestle at state for a third time. “I’m working better on my feet and can take people down now. It’s my fifth year wrestling and I’ve finally got it to click.”
All four of Grandview’s state qualifiers are first-timers and coach Greg Maestas is pleased that two of them are freshmen — 113-pounder Xavier Cardenas and heavyweight Josh Vigil-Harrison — and another, 132-pounder Jaime Cardenas, is a junior.
Unranked Xavier Cardenas won the Region 2 championship at Doherty, beating 15th-ranked Timmy Romero of Mountain Range in the title match.
“Our guys are down there for a reason and it will be good for the young guys to get this experience,” said Maestas, who also has senior Jordan Brown qualified at 160 pounds.
Gateway senior 138-pounder Josh Butler also believes he can make a run at a title in his third trip to state and is part of a trio of Olys set to compete at the Pepsi Center.
Senior Sergio Marquez has high hopes in the 113-pound bracket and takes on Xavier Cardenas in an all-Aurora first round match. Coach Stephen Burns thinks both Butler and Marquez have legitimate chances to make the semifinals, if not further.
“Josh is a lot more confident this year and he’s ready to show the state what he can do,” Burns said of Butler.
Meanwhile, freshman 145-pounder Deyaun Trueblood’s goal is to match or better the sixth-place finish of his older brother, Brent Willis, at the 2009 5A state tournament. With a number of big youth tournaments under his belt, Trueblood doesn’t believe nerves will be a factor for him at state.
Vista PEAK 106-pounder Junior Casillas makes his second trip to state looking for a spot on the 4A medal podium.
Casillas doesn’t go into the tournament completely healthy, but he and coach Ricky Robbins believe he is very capable of getting onto the medal stand, even with undefeated Dalton Robertson of Weld Central awaiting in the first round.
“We both feel Junior is a top-four kid in the state and he can compete with anybody in the bracket,” Robbins said.
Reach Sports Editor Courtney Oakes at [email protected] or 303-750-7555
AURORA 5A/4A STATE WRESTLING TOURNAMENT QUALIFIERS
CHEROKEE TRAIL (6): Bruno Nicoletti, sr., 132 pounds; Harley Korte, jr., 152 pounds; Jalen Reyes, sr., 160 pounds; Diego Rogel, sr., 170 pounds; Trent Rogers, sr., 182 pounds; Garrett Zimmerman, sr., 285 pounds; EAGLECREST (4): Jake Dugan, soph., 132 pounds; Adin Puris, sr., 170 pounds; Trevon Beauford, jr., 182 pounds; Mike Howshar, sr., 285 pounds; GATEWAY (3): Sergio Marquez, sr., 113 pounds; Josh Butler, sr., 138 pounds; Deyaun Trueblood, fr., 145 pounds; GRANDVIEW (4): Xavier Cardenas, fr., 113 pounds; Jaime Cardenas, jr., 132 pounds; Jordan Brown, sr., 160 pounds; Josh Vigil-Harrison, fr., 285 pounds; OVERLAND (3): Javier Alonso, sr., 182 pounds; Amer Tipura, sr., 220 pounds; Anthony Childs, sr., 285 pounds; REGIS JESUIT (4): Josh Redman, sr., 120 pounds; Donovan Ronan, soph., 126 pounds; Grant Neal, jr., 195 pounds; Nick Elgin, fr., 220 pounds; SMOKY HILL: Dexter Bess, jr., 220 pounds; VISTA PEAK (4A): Junior Casillas, jr., 106 pounds
Full first round state pairings, here.