THORNTON — Whether it be one mistake in three periods of wrestling or 10, the look of disappointment doesn't vary too much for Niwot 132-pounder Tommy Stager.
He's got that championship mentality that comes with a salty win-loss record for the season, and on Saturday afternoon at the Thornton Invitational even a slim 2-0 loss to Class 5A's No. 2 ranked Riley Garner-Orr had Stager on the opposite side of upbeat.
But, he owned up to it, Niwot coach Bobby Matthews said — even when Matthews tried to pin the loss on coaching.
"That was the kind of match we wanted in this tournament," Matthews said after what was a great battle between the pair of state title contenders. "He's had a great year and he works really hard. Even when he walked off the mat and I told him (the result) was on me, he said, 'No coach, I have to be able to escape'. I still feel like I have to own that one."
Stager, ranked second in Class 4A, suffered just his fourth loss of the season but the championship match couldn't have been much closer. The first two periods saw Stager handle his Grand Junction Central opponent in every way except getting a scoring move, and the only two points were scored with about 1 minute left in the third period.
"I knew he was a tilter, so that did dictate what I was doing working on bottom. I was trying to keep my wrists from getting caught underneath me and it didn't really work out the way I'd hoped," Stager said after going 2-1 on the day. "It doesn't matter the opponent, if I lose but gave it my best effort that's what I care about. He was wrestling from a spider stance and it's tough to score against, so that's frustrating."
Matthews said he feels Stager is very aware of how to handle Saturday's setback, especially with regionals coming up in two weeks. The first-year Niwot coach also saw good things from Aaron Nicoll (fourth place, 152 pounds) and Saul Escaracega (2-2 record at 195's).
"For Tommy to ride that kid for a whole period, that was very positive to see," Matthews said. "You never know when you have to ride a kid out to win a state title match.
"Nicoll is a kid who just got ranked, and this is going to be his first winning season. He's put himself in a good position for regionals, and obviously he's going to have to beat somebody good there."
Right before Stager took to the championship mat, Mead's Jeremy Ashton conquered the 126-pound weight class at the 20-team event, and 220-pounder Jack Gallegos also finished second for the Mavericks.
Ashton had one second place tournament finish this year, but in his title match completely dominated G.J. Central's Andrew Bench, 13-3. After a reversal from Bench made it 2-2 early in the first period, Ashton dialed in.
"I was willing to give up the escape, and ended up giving the two, but from there it was over," Ashton said. "I was able to turn him a couple times, which was good. I feel like I've improved a lot since the beginning of the season, and I'm looking forward to a really good finish."
Gallegos earned two pins on the day before Dolores Huerta's Marcus Garcia (ranked No. 1 in Class 3A) took a 7-4 decision in the finals. Mead finished eighth as a team.
Frederick showed some potential for coach Joey Gardner, who is also getting ready for his first team regional after taking over for Matthews at FHS this year. The Warriors had three placers — Jake Longstreth, Robert Saldi and Michael Castro. Saldi was awarded fifth place by virtue of a coin flip because of the five-match limit, while the other two placed sixth.
"It's a great tournament, and it's good pre-regionals for sure," Gardner said. "Cole Hoffman is descending down to 113 pounds, and he was just one match away from placing at 120s. I've got potentially five to six guys that can make state if they wrestle to their potential."
At Thornton HS
Team scores — Grand Junction Central High School 211, Mountain View 182, Dolores Huerta 158.5, Alamosa 154, Thornton 134, Akron 115.5, Rangeview 82.5, Mead 79.5, Colorado Springs Christian 68, Florence 59, Ralston Valley 53, Highlands Ranch 51, Niwot 51, Frederick 45.5, Mitchell 36, Wheat Ridge 34, Westminster 25, Estes Park 17, Skyview 15, Arvada 11.
106 — Brendon Garcia (Dolores Huerta High School) 30-0, Fr. over Jacob McClaskey (Grand Junction Central High School) 28-9, So. (MD 13-5).
113 — Isaiah Del La Cerda (Alamosa High School) 30-5, . over Ryan Roth (Dolores Huerta High School) 28-1, Fr. (Fall 5:13).
120 — Fabian Guerrero (Dolores Huerta High School) 28-6, Sr. over Donnie Liles (Mitchell High School) 24-5, Jr. (MD 15-6).
126 — Jeremy Ashton (Mead High School) 33-7, So. over Andrew Bench (Grand Junction Central High School) 28-6, Jr. (MD 13-3).
132 — Riley Garner-Orr (Grand Junction Central High School) 26-1, Jr. over Tommy Stager (Niwot High School) 34-4, Jr. (Dec 2-0).
138 — Dylan Wood (Ralston Valley High School) 33-3, Sr. over Christian Guerrero (Dolores Huerta High School) 28-5, Sr. (Dec 9-8).
145 — Erik Contreras (Mountain View High School) 31-6, So. over Brandon McCain Miller (Westminster High School) 25-3, . (MD 11-1).
152 — Reis Martinez (Alamosa High School) 23-6, . over Adrian Kois (Thornton High School) 28-6, Sr. (Dec 3-1).
160 — EJ Barrera (Grand Junction Central High School) 27-7, Jr. over Tyler Hottinger (Akron High School) 17-6, Sr. (Dec 9-3).
170 — Josh Cordova (Thornton High School) 25-2, Sr. over Braden Barker (Mountain View High School) 26-8, So. (Inj. 0:00).
182 — Tim Lenhart (Mountain View High School) 19-13, Sr. over Jorge Perez (Thornton High School) 19-12, Sr. (Fall 2:32).
195 — Quinton Barber (Mountain View High School) 15-3, Sr. over Dustin Poss (Akron High School) 21-14, Jr. (Dec 6-4).
220 — Marcus Garcia (Dolores Huerta High School) 28-1, Sr. over Jack Gallegos (Mead High School) 37-5, Sr. (Dec 7-4).
285 — Jordan Horsley (Grand Junction Central High School) 23-11, Sr. over Preston Duran (Alamosa High School) 21-9 (Fall 1:00).
Local third place matches
152 — Niles Primrose (Colorado Spring Christian High School) 21-7, Sr. over Aaron Nicoll (Niwot High School) 17-11, Sr. (RULE).
Local fifth place matches
145 — Caleb Mendez (Mead High School) 15-9, Jr. over Issa Grimes (Ralston Valley High School) 18-16, Sr. (RULE).
152 — Robert Saldi (Frederick High School) 9-6, So. over Jackson Gilbert (Mountain View High School) 20-17, So. (RULE).
182 — Christian Calkins (Rangeview High School) 24-8, Sr. over Jake Longstreth (Frederick High School) 18-12, Jr. (RULE).
195 — Osman Satar (Thornton High School) 12-10, Sr. over Michael Castro (Frederick High School) 17-18, Jr. (Fall 2:36).