Like a moth to a flame, Max Gonzales was drawn directly into Cohl Schultz’s arms Feb. 20 at the Pepsi Center.
Cherokee Trail’s first-ever finalist at the Class 5A state wrestling tournament, Gonzales hoped to beat Schultz — Ponderosa’s freshman phenom who held On The Mat’s No. 1 ranking for the entire season — something only one wrestler had done all season.
The junior’s only hope to win the Cougars’ first state championship was staying out of a tie-up and trying to dictate the tempo of the match. Yet there he was late in the first period of the 220-pound title bout, tied up and in trouble. Time was very nearly on his side, but the final seconds of the period weren’t as fast as Schultz, who threw him and pinned him with just one second left.
“I knew his ties were deadly, I don’t know why I chose to get into them in the first place,” said Gonzales, who got pinned for the first time all season and lost for just the third time.
“I definitely wanted to push the pace and hit some more shots,” he added. “Actually hit any shots I should say.”
Gonzales topped a list of seven Aurora wrestlers to earn their way onto the medal podium with top-six places in the three-day tournament. Cherokee Trail also had senior Seth Bogulski place third at 170 pounds and junior Zeke Silva took fourth at 182 pounds, while Grandview’s Josh Vigil-Harrison took third at 285 pounds and the Wolves’ Fabian Santillan (113) and Tanner Patterson (138) each took fourth and Hinkley’s Ben Rhoton ended up sixth at 106 pounds.
Cherokee Trail coach Jeff Buck held out hope that his rising program would finally have its first state champion, but the wait will have to continue. Of the 10 Aurora high schools that have been around more than 10 years, only Cherokee Trail and Hinkley have yet to have a state champion.
Bogulski, the top-ranked 170-pounder by On The Mat for the final month of the season, lost in an ultimate tiebreaker in the semifinals, but Gonzales got a shot with a quick semifinal pin of Broomfield’s Noah Dohm.
Buck knew the final would be difficult as Gonzales — primarily a football player who has developed into an elite wrestler — had his hands full with a full-time wrestling specialist in Schultz, who wrestlers for one of the state’s preeminent mat programs.
The much-anticipated match, which thankfully came in the finals instead of the semifinals after the 220-pound bracket was redrawn on opening day, ended all too soon in a way the Cougars’ camp had hoped to avoid.
“We knew what we didn’t want to do, but you get in a moment and sometimes those things happen when you are wrestling a kid of that caliber,” Buck said of Schultz, who finished the season 44-1 and took care of the first leg at a run at becoming Colorado’s 20th four-time state wrestling champion.
“Cohl is going to be something really special and so is Max,” he added. “Hats off to Cohl and Ponderosa for doing a great job. Max will compete and battle with anybody, win or lose, and that’s what makes him special.”
Gonzales will move along to track & field and football, his two other athletic pursuits, but his dad Dave — the ultimate competitor himself – knows the disappointment will add further fire to his son’s drive.
“My main focus is on track and football, but next year when it comes to stepping on the mat, hopefully you’ll see a different person and one who’s more motivated,” Max Gonzales said.
Gonzales added he feels he is in a good place to growth with the talent in the wrestling room (including fellow junior Ezequiel Silva, who placed fourth at 182 pounds), Cherokee Trail’s unique emphasis on helping its athletes increase strength and under the watchful eye of Buck, who he calls “another father figure.”
Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel