Durango High School freshman Beau Brunson has been wrestling since his dad Robert introduced him to the sport at the age of 5. He has been waiting for a chance to wrestle at the Pepsi Center in Denver as long as he can remember. Ignacio senior Randy Herrera went from a winless freshman season to now being a two-time state qualifier at 285 pounds. Bayfield senior John Foutz has his eyes set on climbing three steps higher on the Class 3A 220-pound podium, as he hopes to be at the top at the end of the Colorado High School Activities Association’s State Wrestling Championship tournament when the three-day tournament concludes Saturday night.
Those are some of the storylines to follow this week as 11 wrestlers from three La Plata County high schools journey to the Pepsi Center in Denver for a chance to be crowned a state champion. First-round action will begin Thursday morning.
Bayfield High School had four qualifiers for the Class 3A tournament, including Foutz as a regional champion. Durango had four for Class 4A, with sophomore 152-pound star Tyler Woodworth entering as a regional champ. Ignacio will send three wrestlers to state to represent a proud Bobcats team with a tradition of competing hard at state.
Here is a closer look at the state qualifiers:
At 152 pounds, Woodworth is Durango’s lone returner to state. He will enter the tournament with a 29-9 record and will face Isaiah Brown, a senior from Mesa Ridge with a 31-12 record. Woodworth won the 152-pound bracket at regionals when he won an 11-8 decision over Noah Rivera of Pueblo East. Last year at state, he faced the top seed in the 145-pound weight class, Jaxson Garoutte of Pueblo County, in his first-round match. He reached the second round of the consolation bracket before he was eliminated last year. He hopes for more this year.
“I thought that I didn’t wrestle my best at regionals, but I still won my weight class,” Woodworth said. “The advice that I’ve gotten that has helped me is to not get wrapped up into the spectacle. It’s just another tournament. Everyone starts out 0-0, and you just have to give it your best.”
At 106 pounds, Brunson, a freshman with a 21-13 record, will have his first taste at state this weekend. He will face Michael Skeldum, a freshman with a 29-11 record from Mesa Ridge. Brunson took third at the Class 4A Region 1 tournament last weekend at Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs after he pinned Joseph Steele of Sand Creek in the first period in the third-place match. Brunson has aspirations of getting onto the podium.
“I was really excited when I qualified, and now I’m ready to go to state,” Brunson said. “This is my first little bit of my journey, but I hope big things are ahead. ... I’m going to try and be the first to score. To get any points at that level is huge. It can be a small margin between winning and losing, so I want to wrestle with no regrets.”
Ben Belt has turned it on in the last two weeks. The sophomore at 160 pounds with a 27-7 record qualified for state when he took fourth at regionals. He will take on Hayden Cross, a junior from Pueblo West with a 35-5 record. While he knows not to get too ahead of himself, he is looking for a chance to prove himself against the top competition in state.
“I know I’m good enough to hang with the other guys,” Belt said. “Sometimes it can be hard to wrestle at your best every time, but I have to focus and be prepared for every match and take it to ’em. The last few weeks, I knew I had to get going because either you win your matches or your season is over. So knowing all of that, it pushes you. This weekend, I am ready to tangle with the top guys because it helps you see where you’re at.”
Senior captain Austin Albrecht wants to make the most of his only trip to state. Albrecht narrowly missed out on qualifying the last two seasons but finally broke through last weekend. He took third at 182 pounds and scored a major decision over Sullivan Deherrera of Pueblo East to book his place.
Albrecht (32-7), will have a tough first-round matchup when he will take on Dillon Derting of Pueblo West, who will enter state with a 24-3 record.
“I’ve worked for the last four years to get to this point,” Albrecht said. “I know that it’s going to be a tough road, but I am going to leave it all out there because it’s my senior year. I know I have to watch my energy because I made a few mistakes last weekend that cost me the semis. I have to be smart when I attack, and I think I’ll be ready for whatever comes my way.”
The Bayfield High School wrestling team had a strong finish to the Class 3A Region 1 tournament in Montrose and want that to carry over to the championship tournament.
At 220, Bayfield’s Foutz is the lone returner to state. The senior will enter as the No. 2 seed with a 39-3 record. He dominated regionals to take home the title without much of a fight, but he knows he will be tested this week.
Last year at state, he reached the semifinals at the 195-pound weight class and went on to finish in fourth. He wants to be at the top of the podium at the end of the weekend. On Thursday, Foutz will take on Terry Lindh, a Manitou Springs sophomore with a 3-2 record.
“I feel more confident heading into state than last year,” Foutz said. “I know I’m not the top dog yet, but that’s what I’m working toward. This weekend is going to push me, and it should. It’s state, and in order to get on the top of the podium, you have to wrestle at your best. I’m proud of all of what I’ve accomplished, and I feel like no matter what I’ve given it my all. I want to put my best foot forward this weekend.”
At 138 pounds, Dylan Pickering, a junior with a 34-9 record, will face Domonic Cerda, a freshman from Riverdale Ridge with a 31-5 record. Pickering took second at regionals and lost to top-seeded Dylan Tressler of Pagosa Springs in the championship match.
“I want to enjoy the experience at state,” Pickering said. “I was so happy, excited and energetic with everything I’ve worked for since I was 4 years old, so when I qualified, it was a dream come true. I went to state as an eighth grader and watched some of the older wrestlers, and I just remember from the bleachers going, ‘Wow, that looks really cool; it must be crazy wrestling down there.’ Now, it’s my turn to get to go and see what it feels like. I want to give it my absolute all and enjoy every match as they come.”
At 160, BHS sophomore Kobe Prior will make his Pepsi Center debut Thursday. He will take on Alberta Zelaya, a junior from Jefferson with a 33-8 record. Prior took third at regionals. With the way he has competed, winning 13 of his last 17 matches dating back to January, he is hoping to continue his good form.
“It felt so surreal as it was happening and I knew I was going to qualify,” Prior said. “I trusted my preparation heading into it better than any other tournament I’ve been at. I want to go out there and surprise people, which I think I can do. All the preparation is really hard, and I want to get some victories out of it. I think this year at state will really help me for my next few years, because I’ve got two more shots at it. I want to learn the most I can this year and move forward with that in my next couple of high school seasons.”
Shane Moore at 182 pounds finished third at regionals and will enter state with a 20-11 record. The senior will take on Colby Runner, a freshman of Severance with 26-9 record. Moore has been close to qualifying and finally broke through last weekend. Moore reflected on what it took to get to state and is not going to relinquish his opportunity.
“I never thought I had it in me to go all the way to state, and the last few days I’ve been pushing the negative thoughts out,” Moore said. “Taking third, it opened my eyes and it made me realize that I do belong at the Pepsi Center. ... They say if you want something done, you’ve got to take that first step to get it. I’ve been thinking quite a bit, and I’ve worked way too hard and way too long to give up now. I want to do something with that four years. I want to outwork and put my heart on the mat. I could care less if I lose or win, as long as I go all out, anything can happen.”
Despite being the smallest team in the area with six wrestlers who came out for this year’s team, Ignacio High School sent half of its team to state in Class 2A.
Keaton McCoy, a freshman at 126 pounds, fought his way through the playback bracket in regionals to finish fourth and earn his spot. McCoy has a 23-14 record and will take on Dante Chiricingo, a senior from Highland with a 30-6 record. He is not fazed by his first-round opponent.
“I don’t like to look at my bracket because no matter who they are, I’ll wrestle them the same,” McCoy said. “It can get me really scared or get me too overconfident, and I can get caught being lazy. I’ve been taking coach (Jordan) Larsen’s motivational talks in a lot. I really think about it before I go to bed, and it makes me confident and believe in myself.”
Tyler Barnes took fourth at regionals. The sophomore at 152 pounds has an 18-15 record and will take on top-seeded Tray Collins, a junior from Wray with an impressive 30-1 record.
“I made a goal to make it to state, but now that I’ve made it, my next goal is to put up a good fight,” Barnes said. “We’ve outperformed as a team all year because we’re a small team. But there’s no reason why the three of us can’t go far.”
Ignacio’s heavyweight qualifier, Herrera, will make his return to Pepsi Center. The senior will take on Lars Sims of Yuma. The sophomore will enter state with a 22-14 record.
“I’ve felt like I’ve came a long way since my freshman year, I mean, I got pinned in the first period almost every match, and my sophomore year I won twice,” Herrera said. “Now looking back, knowing that my hard work I’ve put in these past few years, it helped me become a two-time state qualifier. Just knowing how far I’ve come in the past year and a half, going to every off-season camp and practice, all of that is what got me here. I want to step on that podium this year. ... I’ve come to love this sport, and wrestling at state means the world.”