DENVER — Usually in high school wrestling, the upperclassmen set the tone for the freshmen.
Holy Family freshman Hunter Branson turned that classic model on its head at Day 1 of the Colorado high school state championships, however. The first of three Tigers to take the mats at the Pepsi Center in Class 3A's first round on Thursday, Branson won a 6-4 decision over Pagosa Springs' junior 138-pounder Tate Hinger.
He may be just a freshman, but Branson didn't seem to take long before he got comfortable as a newcomer to Colorado prep wrestling's big stage.
"I was kind of nervous coming in because I knew all these kids were going to be bigger and stronger than me, wrestling seniors and juniors like that," Branson said. "As the match went on, I felt better. After getting that first takedown, I thought I had it."
Taking the lead early, he added, not only helped Branson (24-10) settle in but allowed him to dictate the pace of the match rather than having to chase the higher-seeded junior and come from behind. The takedown he scored in the first period gave him a 2-1 lead to start the third period, during which he led by as many as four points.
One of two freshmen in his 16-man weight class to win a match on Thursday, Branson and his age group have set themselves up with an opportunity to make an impression over the next several days. Tigers senior Kolsen Welham, who is the clear favorite to win the 3A 160-pound title, said Branson made an impression on him a long time ago.
"Hunter is my cousin and he's been wrestling since he was little so these big tournament aren't anything new for him," Welham said. "I didn't even get here my freshman year so what he's been able to do as a freshman, winning regionals and winning today, is impressive."
In his first-round match, Welham (34-4) won a 4-0 decision over Buena Vista's Denver Hargrove. After finishing as 3A's state runner-up at 170 pounds last season, the win was the type of methodical approach he expects will get him another shot at a title.
"My coach has been telling me that this time a year, winning 1-0 is just as good as a pin," Welham said. "All that matters is that you win the match and get to where to want to go in the tournament."
Later on Thursday evening, Holy Family's 285-pounder Andrew Edwards (16-20) was pinned in 1 minute, 25 seconds by Sheridan's Ricky Ayala.