DENVER | Only one of them had wrestled at Pepsi Center before, but they sure made an impression once they were there.
Five Aurora wrestlers earned their way onto the final medal podium Saturday in their respective weight classes, making it eight top-six finishers among the 30 city athletes who qualified for the three-day tournament, including finalists Deyaun Trueblood of Gateway, Grant Neal of Regis Jesuit and Smoky Hill’s Dexter Bess.
While four of the placers were first-time state qualifiers — Regis Jesuit’s Logan Ronan and Trenton Schultz, Hinkley’s Max Carbajal and Smoky Hill’s Demarcus Curtis — Vista PEAK’s Junior Casillas finally felt the pride of placing in his third trip to the state tournament.
Casillas went 1-2 at state in 3A at 106 pounds in his state debut as a sophomore, then went 0-2 last season in the 4A 106-pound bracket. He also wasn’t expected to place this season, especially after coming into state as a fourth-place finisher from his region, at which he had to win a wrestleback to get in.
But there he was, standing on the fifth-place position on the podium after a solid 7-3 victory over Mesa Ridge’s Samuel Freeman in his last career match. Casillas won a career-high 39 matches this season and became the first state placer for coach David Benedict and Vista PEAK’s young program.
Carbajal also had a long way for his state place, as this was his one and only appearance at the Pepsi Center as a senior.
Broken ribs derailed Carbajal’s bid to make last season’s state tournament for Hinkley, but he came into the season believing he could win the 220-pound state championship this season.
An all-Aurora semifinal loss to Bess ended his bid for a title, but Carbajal finished just two steps down from the title with a cathartic third-place finish. He won twice in the consolation bracket and took third with an exciting 4-2 decision of Grand Junction’s Tyler Zook with a takedown in the final seconds, which gave him a 39-4 final mark for the season.
Regis Jesuit brought six wrestlers to the state tournament and three of them placed in the top four of their respective weight classes to help the Raiders move into the No. 10 spot in the 5A team rankings pending the outcome of senior Grant Neal in the 220-pound championship match.
Ronan, a junior, and Schultz — one of Regis Jesuit’s two freshman qualifiers along with 120-pounder Carl Camposanto — each earned the chance to wrestle for third place in their first time on the Pepsi Center mats.
Both ended up in fourth place after tight losses in the third-place matches at 145 and 160 pounds, respectively. Ronan’s was especially close, as he was tied with Pine Creek’s Chris Cos going into overtime and had his chances, but couldn’t quite finish as Cos earned an escape point in the fourth overtime for a 3-2 victory. Ronan finished the season 47-6 to lead all Aurora wrestlers in victories.
Schultz — who took out Cherokee Trail’s Harley Korte, a returning state placer in the first round — won a dramatic 160-pound consolation semifinal when he got a reversal in the final five seconds to beat Columbine’s Karl Breidenbach 4-3. Rocky Mountain’s Konnor Schmidt claimed third place with a 4-0 decision over Schultz, who finished 3-2 at state and 41-11 overall in his first season.
Curtis joined the Smoky Hill wrestling team as a junior after the encouragement of some seniors at the time and qualified for state in just his second year in the sport. An opening round win put him in the quarterfinals at 195 pounds, where lost a 5-1 decision to Fossil Ridge’s Payton Tapia, who went on to earn his second straight trip to the championship match in the weight class.
Dropping into the consolation bracket, Curtis had to outlast Rangeview freshman Max Gonzales in triple overtime in the third round to get into the placing round, where Ralston Valley’s Rocky Michaelson stopped him with a 7-4 decision to send Curtis to the fifth-place match. Rocky Mountain’s Luiz Ortiz held off Curtis 4-2 in the fifth-place match.
Curtis (41-11) joined teammate Bess — who wrestled Neal for the 220-pound state title — on the podium for Smoky Hill, which brought just three total qualifiers to the Pepsi Center.
2014 STATE WRESTLING AURORA PLACING MATCHES
Feb. 22 at Pepsi Center
Aurora third-place matches
145 pounds (5A): Chris Cos (Pine Creek) dec. Logan Ronan (Regis Jesuit), 3-2 (4OT)
160 pounds (5A): Konnor Schmidt (Rocky Mountain) dec. Trenton Schultz (Regis Jesuit), 4-0
220 pounds (5A): Max Carbajal (Hinkley dec. Tyler Zook (Grand Junction), 4-2
Aurora fifth-place matches
120 pounds (4A): Jesus Casillas (Vista PEAK) dec. Samuel Freeman (Mesa Ridge), 7-3
195 pounds (5A): Luiz Perez (Rocky Mountain) dec. Demarcus Curtis (Smoky Hill), 4-2
Courtney Oakes is Sports Editor of the Aurora Sentinel. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @aurorasports. Facebook: Aurora Prep Sentinel