LAFAYETTE — One point, specifically a single escape late in a pivotal regional match, was all that prevented Atiba Obika from reaching the state tournament last season.
It's not as though the Centaurus 145-pounder needs to be just one point better if he wants to break through at the end of this, his senior campaign. His regional weight-class competition won't make it that easy for him. But if his 16-5 record nearing the midway point of the season is an indicator of his determination, Obika is up for the challenge.
During a 36-30 dual loss at Centaurus on Thursday, Obika got a better idea of the level he needs to reach by Feb. 10-11, when regional tournaments take place statewide. It came by way of a pinfall defeat at the hands of Niwot senior Tommy Stager, who currently ranks as Colorado Class 4A's best 145-pounder according to the latest On The Mat rankings.
Wrestlers often say they learn more from losses than wins, and Obika echoed that sentiment after the one-sided, yet excusable, defeat against arguably the best wrestler he'll face this season.
"The guys I'm going to have trouble with are all going to be pretty solid by this point in the season, and that kid is obviously one of the best," Obika said. "I've got to continue to prepare for regionals over the next month so that I'll be ready. Once I get to regionals, I'm really going to try to take it one match at a time and get through it so that this time, I'm getting to state rather than not going on such a close margin."
Against Stager, an Air Force commit who improved to 21-2, Obika lasted longer than most do. It wasn't until 35 seconds into the second round that Stager, who led 16-5 at the time, pinned Obika.
Niwot head coach Bobby Matthews said the Cougars had better energy than during their previous night's match against Northridge. Aided by Centaurus forfeiting three weight classes, Niwot took the match with Stager's victory plus wins at 126, 152, 195 and 285.
The victory was soured, however, by the loss of 138-pounder Dylan Bonge. The senior, who recently placed fourth at the Gary Daum Invitational, was forced to leave his match against Centaurus' Gabe Farracca in the first round with what was unofficially diagnosed as a broken collarbone.
"It looks like four to six weeks so it's hard to say if he's going to make it back so that was really unfortunate," Matthews said. "It puts a real damper on the night because you never want to see a kid go down like that, especially a senior. One of the first things he said was, 'Do you think I'll be back in time for regionals?' so he's a tough kid, and a good wrestler, and we're hoping for the best."
Niwot 36, Centaurus 30
At Centaurus H.S.
106 — Preston Swan, Centaurus, pinned Colton Gruszcynski, 1:18; 113 — Christian Meraz, Centaurus, pinned Max Pecherzewski, 1:03; 120 — Open; 126 — Harrison Bartlett, Niwot, won by forfeit; 132 — Luis Sosa, Niwot, won by forfeit; 138 — Gabe Farracca, Centaurus, won by injury default; 145 — Tommy Stager, Niwot, pinned Atiba Obika, 2:35; 152 — Brandon Barton, Niwot, won by forfeit; 160 — Collin Roberts, Centaurus, pinned Keith Hemmenway, 1:00; 170 — Open; 182 — Open; 195 — Nathan Hemmenway, Niwot, pinned Marcos Fontes, 1:18; 220 — Nate Uribis, Centaurus, pinned Daniel Torres, 3:07; 285 — Jose Lopez, Niwot, pinned Malachi Lewoski, 1:28.