FREDERICK -- Brandon Wetsch has taken away many lessons in three years wrestling at Erie. But the foremost piece of insight he has brought into his most recent campaign: If he wants to best the best there are no off tournaments.
Wetsch's refocused and intense approach to his junior year was more than evident Saturday in the Gary Daum Classic finals at Frederick High School. The 132-pounder was at another level against Austin Walters, dominating the Platte Valley wrestler in their championship match.
Wetsch pinned Walters in 3 minutes, 48 seconds, coming off the bottom to catch his opponent in a cradle. And making such a stunning move from a precarious position more than proved to the Tiger that he is on the right track to begin the second half of the season.
"I figured it was the first tournament out of break and a chance to start off with a bang," Wetsch said. "I know if I want to be one of those top-ranked wrestlers and make it deep in state I have to step it up."
Wetsch, one of two champions Erie produced en route to a sixth-place finish, has had a mixed history with the post-break tournament. As a freshman, he won the invitational (formerly known as the Boulder Valley Invite), but placed only third a year ago. Some of what cost him in his last trip through the brackets was heaping too much pressure on himself. The cure this time around almost sounded counterintuitive coming from a wrestler who has also voiced such intense goals.
"Really, I came out to have fun today," he said. "I had a smile on my face the whole day, instead of being aggressive, saying I have to win this match."
Wetsch's victory book-ended a strong run by the shorthanded Tigers. Ladd Bunker came up with the team's other title with a convincing third-period push. The 160-pounder walked off the mat with an 8-5 decision against Longmont's Fernando Ramos Vega, blowing open what was a one-point match in the final 2 minutes.
"It was a little bit closer than I wanted," Bunker said. "I knew I had to bring everything out in the end."
The match surprised Bunker, given he had a dominating performance against Ramos Vega earlier in the season. The Erie wrestler beat Ramos Vega 9-3 in a placing match at the Northern Colorado Christmas tournament just before break.
Even with the match playing out tighter than Bunker wanted, it was a relief to the Erie junior. Last season, the tournament marked the end of the 160-pounder's season.
"I hurt myself in the finals match here last year," said Bunker, who collected his fourth tournament title of the season Saturday. "It was great to win this. Also because it's local, a lot of people know my name and I want to show them what I'm about."
Impressed as Erie coach Steve Gratton was with his team's performance, he believed the Tigers had the potential to place better. But with three key injuries, the coach pointed out his team entered the invitational a bit hobbled.
"Our 145-pounder, Will Schell would have done well here," said Gratton, whose Tigers collected five top-four finishes at the tournament.
Monarch pushed three wrestlers into placing matches and had a chance at a title. But Landon Alm's run at a championship was cut short by Joesph Prieto. The Holy Family wrestler caught the Coyotes' 126-pounder in the first period, pinning him in 1:20. The loss visibly stunned Alm, but even in the face of defeat the senior found bright spots about his run Saturday. After missing last season due to injury, the Coyote believes he is making strides in his final season.
"It's my first bracketed tournament, so making the finals felt good," he said. "But there are definitely areas I need to work on."
Follow Elwood on Twitter @ElwoodKShelton.
GARY DAUM CLASSIC
At Frederick HS
Team scores -- Longmont 204.5, Platte Valley 150, Holy Family 144, Boulder 143, Golden 133, Erie 124, Fairview 117.5, Monarch 93, Frederick 90, Niwot 81.5, Skyline 65, Silver Creek 63, Lyons 20.
106 -- Clay Robinson, Niwot, pins Nikko Jaramillo, Platte Valley, :33.
113 -- Vincent Casados, Holy Family, def. Jesse Ortiz, Frederick, 6-5.
120 -- Julian Prieto, Holy Family, default Romelo Salas, Golden.
126 -- Joseph Prieto, Holy Family, pins Landon Alm, Monarch, 1:30.
132 -- Brandon Wetsch, Erie, pins Austin Walters, Platte Valley, 3:48.
138 -- Melvin Gutierrez, Fairview, def. Martin Selby, Boulder, 7-5.
145 -- Chris Robinson, Fairview, major dec. Lane Olsen, Longmont, 12-4.
152 -- Devin Rothrock, Golden inj. default Drake Greeott, Longmont.
160 -- Ladd Bunker, Erie, def. Fernando Ramos Vega, Longmont, 8-5.
170 -- Brad Blackstock, Golden, major dec. Connor Stengel, Longmont, 9-0.
182 -- Cito Balsells, Fairview, def. Drew Shaw, Platte Valley, 7-5.
195 -- Jaime Ramos Vega, Longmont, inj. default Ray Rodriguez, Skyline
220 -- Noah Lennox, Golden, def. Dutch Warner, Longmont, 2-0.
285 -- Dakota Gulley, Golden, def. Chris Palacios, Longmont, 3-2.
106 -- Anthony Nieto, Erie, def. Preston Cates, Fairview, 2-0.
113 -- Andrew Jaramillo, Platte Valley, def. Ben Ferrera, Monarch, 5-3 (OT).
120 -- Christian Hernandez, Erie, default Braden Richards, Skyline.
126 -- Ryan Waite, Platte Valley, def. Tobias Campbell, Erie, 10-5.
132 -- Eloy Valdez, Longmont, def. Cody Campos, Frederick, 3-1.
138 -- Colten Montgomery, Longmont, default Dylan Shoop, Frederick.
145 -- Keeton William, Boulder, default Brayden Sharp, Platte Valley.
152 -- Josh Harrison, Boulder, major dec. Griff Wendland, Monarch, 18-8.
160 -- Jacobo Jiminez, Boulder, def. Noah Payne, Frederick, 10-3.
170 -- Jack Wizlich, Boulder, def. Damien O'Hare, Niwot, 7-5.
182 -- Dakota Silva, Silver Creek, pins Ben Lavoie, Holy Family, 2:01
195 -- Kenny Jones, Silver Creek, pins Evon Franz, Platte Valley, 4:02.
220 -- Daniel Jansen, Holy Family, def. Theo Colucci, Boulder, 7-3.
285 -- Willy Clements, Holy Family, def. David Plute, Lyons, 2-1.