DENVER — Most freshmen show up to the state wrestling tournament and like bugs get blinded by the light.
Not Xander Rens.
The Monarch freshman has competed all over the country and in some of the biggest tournament venues the sport has to offer and the stage at the Pepsi Center didn't even cause him to blink.
"The key to all my preparation this year was all of the travel last year," said Rens, who dispatched of Cherry Creek's Munkhdulugu Batnasan 9-3 in his Class 5A 120-pound first round match. "I've wrestled on stages much bigger than this and it gets you ready. You are not star struck and you've been there before."
Rens, sporting the contradictory freshly shaved haircut, set the tone for his Coyotes teammates that advanced four of their seven wrestlers to Friday's quarterfinals.
"We just tried to treat it like every other tournament we wrestled this year and don't let the lights be too bright," said Monarch coach Ezra Paddock, whose team went 0-6 on the opening day a year ago. "And for the most part, they have done that."
Paddock rode the roller-coaster of emotion with his team on Thursday night. Shortly after Rens victory, Paddock and his staff — which had to manage several matches at a time — watched their 126-pounder, sophomore Parker McQuade fall behind early to Teigan Thomas-Trujillo of Mountain Vista and never recover. McQuade lost 8-4.
One of the favorites at 132, Cole Polluconi, also drew a Cherry Creek opponent and feeding off the good vibes of Rens before him, cruised a 9-0 major decision of Jakob Otto.
"It's always good to get the first one out of the way because you are always most nervous for that one," said Polluconi, who will draw Thornton's Wendell Berry in the quarters. "I just really wanted to go out there and put it on him early."
The best match of the night for the Coyotes was at 145 pounds from Caden Feenstra. The Monarch senior fell behind early to Prairie View's Bradley Lehmann, who had only lost three times all year, 2-0.
The score remained the same into the third period and then Feenstra got his break. He scored his first point via an escape from the down position and quickly shot to score the takedown and the 3-2 lead — that would eventually be the final score.
"I was just going to continue to try and push the pace and I really wanted to build off the matches before me," said Feenstra, who will get Lakewood's Gabriel Dinette (43-1) in the quarters. "I was confident in my cardio."
At press time, heavyweight Ian Scott had yet to take the mat.
Friday's quarterfinals begin at 10 a.m. with the 3A and 2A classifications going first and the bigger schools to follow at approximately 12:45. The semifinals are set for 7:15 p.m.