DENVER — Wrestling his first-ever match at a state tournament on Thursday night, Longmont sophomore Gio Wilson learned a lesson that usually requires a bitter defeat as the price for its wisdom.
That lesson: No matter how good you are, you had better be at your best at state. If you're not, you'll get beat.
Making his state tournament debut during the first round of the Class 4A 126-pound bracket on Thursday night, Wilson came out of the gates slow and found himself getting handled by Cheyenne Mountain junior Rick Stark. The Trojans sophomore nearly trailed by an insurmountable margin before mounting a desperate third-period surge that propelled him from behind by four to ahead by one point and caused Stark to withdraw due to a shoulder injury with 34 seconds left in the match.
A win is a win, especially the first one at state. But for Wilson, that one was too close for comfort.
"Man, I was feeling the jitters of the first time at state as soon as I walked out there," Wilson said. "I got halfway through the first and my legs were killing me, I have no idea why. I was going, but I wasn't working my best. The first two periods were pretty garbage for me.
"It really sucks that he got hurt. But now I know that I need to work harder next match and put my work in from the start of the first period."
Stark led 6-2 to start the third period before Wilson scored five straight points in the span of 36 seconds with an escape, a takedown and a two-point nearfall. At the time of Stark's injury, Wilson led 7-6.
Longmont assistant coach Ali Bhatti said early on in the match the moment got the best of Wilson, who had never before even been in attendance at Pepsi Center to watch the event. But he was also proud of the way the young grappler collected himself and pulled out the victory.
"He was coming back and I think he was about to turn the kid," Bhatti said. "But you still have to wrestle six minutes and for two and half periods, he didn't wrestle the way he has been wrestling for the last year. It's a big moment, and for some of these underclassmen, you have to kind of get thrown into the fire a little bit."
Of the Trojans' four state qualifiers, only Wilson and junior Drake Engelking advanced to Friday's championship quarterfinals. A two-time state placer, Engelking won a 16-6 major decision over Pueblo West's Martin Trujillo in the first round of the 160-pound bracket.
Out of Skyline's five state qualifiers, junior heavyweight Ricky Childers emerged victorious from Thursday night's first round. He won a 2-1 decision over Wheat Ridge's Frank Castillo in one of the latest matches of the evening.
"I just knew I'd have to go out there and work hard because it wasn't going to be easy," Childers said. "I started wrestling freshman year and this was my second time at state. The difference this time was just experience. I've learned a lot more about wrestling and it felt great to win tonight."
Also in the heavyweight division, Silver Creek's Jacob Williams advanced by pinning Lewis-Palmer's Alex Allen in 1:16.
Erie freshman Rudy Lopez advanced to the championship quarterfinals without having to take the mat, as his first-round opponent Jacob Parker from Windsor forfeited.
All five Mead wrestlers - Roman Salaz, Brady Borger, Emilia Chavez, Jeremy Ashton and Luis Miramontes - fell in the first round. All three Frederick state qualifiers - Cole Hoffman, Victor Rangel and Robert Saldi - also lost in the first round.