DENVER | As Blythe Cayko rolled and came out on top of Calhan’s Taylor Knox, a slow smile began to spread over the Eaglecrest junior’s face.
She hooked Knox’s arm, forced it to the mat and let the inevitable happen — a win by fall.
Cayko completed an undefeated season with her 32nd pin of the season in 32 matches and the final one cemented her as the 185-pound state champion on the big stage Saturday night at Ball Arena, where the girls state wrestling tournament took place for the first time.
“I’m pretty confident in myself as a pinner, but I have a lot of respect for Taylor because her and I are a very close match and I knew that going in,” Cayko said afterwards. “I just had this feeling and it was like ‘oh my gosh, the roll worked.’ At first I was a little worried and I have a lot of respect for her, so it exciting to win.
“It feels good, it makes all the work that I’ve put in over the last year is worth it,” she added. “You just have to trust the process.”
Cayko pinned Knox — last season’s 185-pound state champion — for the second time in a week’s span and the third time in the past month as the two had squared off in the championship match of the Douglas County Tiara Challenge Jan. 22 as well as in the Region 1 final Feb. 12.
Knox took Cayko into the third round for the first time in the Douglas County tournament match before losing by fall and got the first takedown against her in the regional match before Cayko pinned her early in the second period.
This time, Knox had a 5-4 lead after two periods and was trying to ride her out when Cayko rolled over her, came out on the other side and earned the quick pin.
Eaglecrest girls head coach Sparky Adair said he went 26-0 and won a state championship with all wins coming via pin in his prep days, so he knows the look of somebody who makes it happen every time on the mat.
“Blythe knew and it and so did I, so I just put my hands in the air,” Adair said. “She is so tough on top. …We knew she would give us a good match, but I was really confident Blythe could overcome it. She was so prepared and did so much wrestling in the last year. She did all the extra things and said ‘I’m going to be a state champion,’ and she did it.”
Cayko jumped into Adair’s arms afterwards and celebrated with him and assistant Melissa Myers as they walked off the Ball Arena floor.
A quick elevator trip up to the suite level provided the second surreal experience as she was mobbed instantly by teammates, coaches and supporters who had helped her get there.
“I got absolutely bombarded when I went up upstairs; I feared for my life,” Cayko said wryly. “All of Eaglecrest has been so supportive of me. …It takes a village and I couldn’t do it without everybody. The boys that spar with me even when they don’t want to and the coaches that work with me and help me with my conditioning. I wouldn’t be here without all of them.”
Adair, Myers, boys head coach Javier Quintana and assistant Horacio Vialpondo Jr. and a cast of others helped give Cayko experiences in Colorado and in other places such as Fargo and Reno (where she won the Reno Tournament of Champions this season) for just this moment.
Eaglecrest also had a state finalist in the Class 5A boys state tournament in junior 106-pounder Dorian Ervin — who made it to the state championship match in his first time at state before losing a close decision — so the momentum in the Raptors’ room is real.
“There’s a lot of moving pieces, but we have a very passionate room and we have coaches that will run through a wall for them to be successful,” Quintana said.
Cayko has taken full advantage of the opportunities to get better in the sport and been willing to sacrifice all the time that it takes to be great, while she also has the intangibles that make her elite.
“Her mindset is of a champion,” Adair said. “She’s a smart kid and she’s really good in the classroom, so when you apply that to wrestling, it’s easy to be successful because she knows how to work hard and she knows it’s not just about talent.”
The end result of this season is also sweet for Cayko given the obstacle she couldn’t quite overcome last year: COVID-19.
The effects of the virus limited her, but not enough to keep her from placing at last season’s state tournament in Pueblo. Cayko finished third and that was after she was fifth as a freshman when girls wrestling was still in its pilot stage before it became a sanctioned sport last year.
“Mentally, I think it was the biggest struggle,” she said. “In my head, I wanted to be the same athlete I’ve been, but my body just couldn’t get there. It was really hard because it was so scary, it’s hard not to take it personally. To think ‘I must be a bad wrestler, I’ve forgotten all my technique, etcetera, etcetera, but you just have to bounce back.”
By winning as a junior, Cayko set herself up to potentially become a two-time state champion if she is able to do it again next year.
“I spent two months traveling this summer where I didn’t get to see my parents or anything,” Cayko said. “It was really hard and now I’m going to do it all over again this summer.
“This keeps that fire going.”
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports
BLYTHE CAYKO’S PATH TO THE 2022 185-POUND STATE CHAMPIONSHIP
First round — won by fall over Lamar’s Jaxi Mireles in 1:14
Quarterfinals — won by fall over Sorocco’s Makala Simpson in 1:59
Semifinals — won by fall over Yuma’s Mia Dishner in 4:35
Championship — won by fall over Calhan’s Taylor Knox 4:19