Steve Lewis/Durango Herald
Talk about a going-away gift.
Aaron Velasquez of Bayfield delivered the ultimate gift to his retiring head coach Saturday night: a state championship.
Velasquez avenged his only two losses of the last two years by pinning Brandon Bertsch of Alamosa in the 160-pound title match at the packed Pepsi Center, which welcomed 38,771 spectators this year.
Wrestling at 160 pounds in Class 3A, Velasquez attacked from the opening whistle, piling up a 9-0 lead before scoring the most important pin of his career.
After the referee raised his hand and the crowd acknowledged his second state title, Velasquez first rushed over to head coach Herb Stinson, lifting Stinson in a celebratory bear hug.
“I was the last kid he was going to coach in high school, and I wanted to give him a state championship as a going-away gift,” an excited Velasquez said after Saturday night’s victory.
“He’s been my coach for four years. He and the other coaches ... I’ve got to thank all my coaches,” said Velasquez, who also leaped into the stands to hug his mom and dad – Gus and Tina Velasquez.
“I wasn’t going to lose here ... no way, no how,” said Velasquez, who finished his senior season with a 27-2 record. He’s 67-2 in the last two years with two state crowns.
He said his earlier losses to the tall and lanky Bertsch gave him additional momentum for the state championship match.
“I went out there with no regrets; I had fire underneath me,” said Velasquez, who also credited a former Wolverine wrestler for his state tournament success.
“One of my biggest helpers through this whole thing was Jordan Larsen,” he said of the last Bayfield wrestler other than Velasquez to win a state championship.
Larsen currently is wrestling at the Colorado School of Mines where he is ranked No. 8 in the nation in NCAA Division II at 165 pounds.
The Wolverines worked out at Mines on Wednesday, then watched the Mines-Colorado Mesa dual in Golden.
“Jordan told me he lost his regional championship his senior year, and he came back to win state. He told me to keep believing,” Velasquez said.
Not a problem, according to Stinson.
“The pressure didn’t bother Aaron. He did just what we wanted him to do,” said Stinson, who is retiring this year after 39 years of coaching.
Stinson said the earlier losses Velasquez had to Bertsch didn’t bother him.
“We knew this is the one that counts. This is the one that shows who’s a true state champion,” Stinson said.
With his win, Velasquez joined assistant coach Marshall Hahn as a Bayfield two-time state wrestling champion.
And Hahn is more than happy to have company.
“It’s great. I know that he’s as happy as a kid can be ... and that’s what this is all about,” said Hahn, who also coached Velasquez in football when he led the state in rushing and helped the Wolverines to the state championship football game last fall.
“Without a doubt, he’s very competitive, very driven,” said Hahn, calling Velasquez one of the most committed athletes he’s ever coached.
“I wanted to do everything I could to win,” Velasquez said before accepting congratulations from his wrestling soul brother, Alex Peńa of Ignacio.
Meanwhile, Velasquez’s head coach – wearing a bright purple tie to mark the occasion – could only smile.
“All these kids are special,” Stinson said. “But Aaron, of course, is extra special.”
And a state championship in the final match he coached in high school?
“That’s pretty cool, especially with someone like Aaron,” Stinson said.
STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald