DENVER — Skyline's Angel Perez was gassed.
The exhaustion was evidenced by two or three words between every breath, a slow climb up from the Pepsi Center floor to the concourse area, where the senior went to examine the last wrestling match of his career.
A 9-2 loss to Widefield senior John Underwood in the fifth place match of the Class 4A 182 pound state championship bracket certainly took a couple seconds to re-hash, but in no time Perez went from disappointed to grateful after becoming Skyline's first placer since 2011.
"I thank God that I got here, first of all," Perez said after going 3-3 for the tournament and 41-9 overall in his final prep season. "There hasn't been a state placer for Skyline since (2011), so I feel like I broke a bit of a curse. All the hard work paid off, and I'm beyond blessed."
Skyline last saw a placer in the 2011 215-pound weight class, when Jordan Martinez soared to a second place finish.
Perez's final match was swayed in the wrong direction with just two seconds to go in the first period, when Underwood scored a whirlwind takedown. It was still just 3-1 with about 1 minute to go, but Perez had to take a chance and shoot — and found himself in a vulnerable position.
Still, Perez didn't need to force any kind of smile when thinking about how far he'd come.
"My junior year, I was improved but still didn't get that chance at state, and I knew I needed to work harder," Perez said. "Coach (Mike) Silva knew I could get to this point, and I'm very happy to get to this stage."
Silver Creek's Williams rebounds for fourth
Silver Creek's Jacob Williams wanted to do more than just improve on last year's fifth place finish at state. After entering this year's 285-pound bracket with a pristine 38-0 record, his expectations of himself were raised even higher.
On Saturday the senior had to reset himself after a one-point loss in the semifinals, and he was able to take some aggression out on Mountain View's Martin Rodriguez to reach the third-place match. Facing another familiar opponent in Windsor's Victor Bravo, the senior just couldn't connect a shoot successfully and fell 3-2.
"He did the same the same thing to me as last year ... I took as many shots as I could and he just stuffed them all," Williams said of Bravo. "He reacted to what I did.
"It was a tough weekend. I beat some guys who have a lot of potential in their future and I wish them luck. But overall, just tough. I definitely had big goals, and there were definitely faults and things I need to work on to get to that next level."
Holy Family's Branson finishes sixth
Leading in to the state tournament, the stars really need to align to make the most of the entire Pepsi Center experience.
It just wasn't the case for Holy Family sophomore Hunter Branson. Instead of putting together the final touches for a run to the top of the podium, Branson was instead battling the affects of the flu that hit him on Tuesday.
"Just fighting through it, that was my own battle," he said. "And that makes me better as a person than winning state."
Already facing a deep 152-pound bracket, Branson rallied back from an opening round defeat to Pagosa Springs' Trevor Bryant to finish sixth. On Saturday afternoon, he jumped out early on Rifle's Brian De La Cerda, but was eventually pinned in the third period.
Disappointed? No. Motivated? You bet. And he will continue to get advice from his cousin and former Holy Family state champion Kolsen Welham, who is now wrestling at Arizona State.
"He just told me to go out and do my thing," Branson said. "Things will take care of themselves."
Monarch trio left their mark on the program
For the last four years Monarch coach Ezra Paddock has taken his boys all over the country to some of the best tournaments to get the best competition he could.
Cole Polluconi, Parker McQuade and Nate Pritchard started with the program three years ago, helped build it from the ground up and turned what was really a dormant program into something special.
"When we got to high school, I didn't really have big expectations, but I knew we were going to do great things," said Polluconi, who wrapped up his tournament with a third place finish -— beating Doherty's Maverick Keigher 5-3. "I'm really proud of what we've done."
Said McQuade, who earned a 6-5 win over Pomona's Franklin Cruz to finish third at 152 pounds: "We build a dynasty based on hard work, led by example and friendship."
It was fitting that Polluconi and McQuade finished within a minute of one another and shared and embrace in the tunnel afterwards to reflect on what was. Paddock got it too, and was driven to tears.
"I'm a little sour that I didn't reach all my goals, but I'm really proud of what we have done together," McQuade said.
Pritchard finished sixth after losing a 5-2 decision to Cherry Creek's Kai Blake at 170 pounds.
Hays vs. Worthley Part IV
It was one of the best rivalries of the year.
It had everything you could want: the crosstown grudge between the two schools, smack talking and two powerful young men that brought everything to the mat.
Fitting that they wrapped up their prep careers with each other on Saturday afternoon in the Class 5A third place match at 182 pounds.
And after Broomfield's Drew Worthley scored two regular season pins, it was Legacy's Drian Hays who turned the tables twice at the Pepsi Center, scoring a quaterfinal victory and then again in the third place match. Hays pinned Worthley 2 minutes, 33 seconds into the match.
"I really wasn't wrestling my best during those two (regular season) matches. I had a viral infection going on and a lot of other stuff," said Hays, who doubles as a state champion body builder. "I knew that if I could get healthy and be at my best when it really matters, I'd be able to take care of business."
The rivalry reached a head after the Front Range League championships, after Worthley pinned Hays for the second time in as many weeks and said afterwards that he "was in (Hays') head."
That played a part in feeding the Hays fire.
"I know that he likes to think that he may have got in my head, but I'm not one of those people who likes to dwell on the past," said Hays, who was one of four Lightning wrestlers to place including Dakota Key (4th at 145) and Grady Funk (6th at 160) and Aidan Funk (in the title match at 170).
I like to focus on the future and for me, I was already focused on the next match."
A dazzling debut for Lyons' Huff
Lyons freshman Oran Huff quickly put himself among those to watch in the future with an impressive state championship run at 126 pounds, going from a 21-11 entering record all the way to the 2A semifinals and then finishing off with a fourth place standing.
He beat two seniors and a junior along the way, eventually meeting up with Cael Croissant of Wiggins in the third-place match. Croissant, a senior, scored a pin in 4:34.
Stunning end to brilliant career for Jeremy Ashton
After medaling in his first three seasons and even reaching the finals as a sophomore, Mead senior Jeremy Ashton fell short of placing in his final state tournament.
The Mavericks' regional champion was upset by Cheyenne Mountain's Luke Antonia in the first round of the 4A 132-pound bracket on Thursday night. He rebounded to dominantly win back-to-back matches before getting pinned in the third consolation round on Saturday afternoon and eliminated from the tournament.
As a team, Mead's four state qualifiers combined to finish with a 2-10 record.
Local anthem trend continues
Following in the footsteps of Broomfield's Kayla Hruby, a singer from the BoCoPreps.com area sang the national anthem prior to Saturday night's championship matches at the wrestling state championships. This year's singer was Niwot's Ellie Brown.
BoCoPreps.com area wrestlers shoot high percentage at state
Out of the 53 total state qualifiers from the BoCoPreps.com area, 22 of them wrestled their way onto the podium in their respective weight classes and classifications. That's 41.5 percent.
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