DENVER — Mead's Jeremy Ashton was understandably crushed after losing in the 3A 126-pound state championship match at the Pepsi Center on Saturday night.
But after a quick talk with his coaches, it didn't take long for Ashton to see the bright side of what he had just accomplished. In a sport that is traditionally dominated by upperclassmen, Ashton was one win away from winning a state title.
Ashton found an oddly reassuring comfort once it sunk in that he had just come within a few points of a state championship as a sophomore.
"I had a great season," Ashton said. "I really wanted first place. But to me, a loss is probably even better because I'll learn more from it and that will make me work harder to get first. It hurts. But I'm going to do literally everything I can to win next year."
Facing Jefferson's Kyle Cisneros (48-4) in the championship match, the 5-foot-4 Ashton (41-8) struggled against the lengthier junior. He was taken down five times in the 10-5 decision loss. While he was able to escape frequently, Ashton came up on the losing side of a key scramble in the third period that put him at an 8-4 disadvantage and forced him to press the issue without much time for a comeback.
Ashton, who placed fifth at 113 pounds last season, said he had a pretty good idea what to expect from Cisneros, who beat Ashton 12-5 in the consolation semifinals at last year's state tournament. He just couldn't stop it.
"Well, I kind of knew he was going to do that little pass-by," Ashton said. "He did that a lot the last time we wrestled. But it was a lot stronger and faster this time. I wasn't really sure how to stop it and he was just the better wrestler tonight."
Ever since he arrived in the Mead High wrestling room as a freshman last year, Ashton has repeatedly impressed Mavericks coach Ty Tatham with his intense focus on improvement. Even after a loss, says Tatham, who has coached Mead's only state champions in Kyle Couch ('13, '14) and Sage Budd ('14, '15), Ashton has remained a forward-looking worker.
Given what he has seen throughout Ashton's first two years of prep competition, Tatham said he has what it takes to continue climbing the podium and possibly become the school's third title-winner.
"He just keeps moving up the podium and he's great to coach," Tatham said. "We'll evaluate some things and figure out what he needs to do to get better. And he'll do it."
Mead's 220-pounder Jack Gallegos took home a fourth-place medal on Saturday night. The Mavericks senior won three matches at the state tournament before ultimately losing in the third-place match. He was pinned by Moffat County's Stelios Peroulis in 2:23.
At 145 pounds, Mavericks junior Caleb Mendez placed sixth. He lost a 6-2 decision to Weld Central's Jimmy Laconte in the fifth-place match.
As a team, the Mavericks finished in the top 15 with three state qualifiers.