LONGMONT — You have to earn respect before garnering respect — especially in the wrestling world.
For years, Colorado wrestlers have struggled with their national reputation, especially at tournaments like last weekend's Doc Buchanan Invite at Clovis High School in California — a tournament that gets schools from all over the country and not just those west of the Mississippi.
"Out in California, they don't respect Colorado (wrestling)," said Longmont junior Drake Engelking. "My dad was in my corner and we were getting a crappy call or two and they would just say, that since we are from Colorado, that's not how we do it up here.
"And that's how most of them are, but to go out there and to have four Colorado finalists is really awesome."
Engelking was one of those finalists. The Trojans stud was impressive in his run to the finals, taking out Los Gatos' (Calif.) Alexander Escudero 6-5 in the quarterfinals and then the host school Buchanan's Joel Romero 6-4 in the semifinal to set up a championship tilt with Bergen (N.J.) Catholic's Shane Griffith.
"Even for the quarterfinals match they brought us into the big gym so everyone could watch," said Engelking, who will be one of four Trojans to compete this weekend at the Tournament of Champions in Vernal, Utah. "I didn't have too many expectations, but I knew that every match was going to be tough."
In the final, the Stanford-bound Griffith — whose team is ranked No. 2 in the country by FloWrestling.com — scored a 15-4 major decision over Engelking in a match that will certainly make him better as the season comes down to its final month.
"I didn't open up and I was a little nervous, and I just didn't feel confident going into the last match," Engelking said. "Not like I did going into the semis."
Colorado representatives Pomona's Theoris Robison (132), Greeley Central's Andrew Alirez (152) and Ponderosa's Colton Schultz (285) — who handed Clovis (Calif.) three-time undefeated champion Seth Nevills his first ever loss — all won their championship matches.
Monarch was also on hand and on the strength of 106-pound freshman Vince Cornella's sixth-place finish. He was one of six Centennial State teams to crack the top 25 of the massive 100 team tournament.
"Colorado wrestling is the best it has ever been right now," Monarch coach Ezra Paddock said via text.
Locally last week, in addition to the five local champions being crowned at Niwot's Gary Daum Invite, it was a banner day for the Broomfield at Fort Collins' Arnold Torgerson Invite.
The Eagles, who host Monarch on Thursday night, got titles from Darren Green at 132 pounds and Mason Watt at 220. The Eagles, who finished second to a very good Windsor team, had five other placers.
Looking ahead to this weekend, all eyes will be on two places. Some of the bigger 5A programs will be at Arvada West and some of the state best 4A teams will be at Frederick.
Warriors coach Joey Gardner is starting to assemble a tournament that could rival some of the best of the state in the coming years. And even though highly touted Pueblo East dropped out — nixing the potential for a heavyweight showdown between Silver Creek's Jacob Williams and defending champion Andy Garcia — the field is still tough with the aforementioned Wizards from Windsor scheduled to be on hand.