The nerves of steel for Boulder freshman Joey Airola didn't match the surroundings, let alone his circumstance.

This state wrestling debut was a calm and collected masterpiece.

Airola meticulously crafted a 14-0 advantage in his Class 5A first-round, 106-pound match against Poudre's Tony Garcia-Lopez before putting him away with a pin after 5 minutes and 27 seconds of dominance on Thursday night.

No leaps of joy for this win at the state tournament. Just a few steps off the mat and into the Pepsi Center tunnels, Airola was still focused in on his coach, absorbing a few more tips going forward. He promised his coach he'd be ready for weigh-ins Friday.

"I mean for him, he's so coachable," said Will LeBoeuf, who is in his first year at the helm of Boulder's program. "Just a great kid all around."

Airola said he got into wrestling around the fifth grade because of his friend Kaleb Oliver, the Panthers' 113-pound wrestler. Before that, he'd been into motocross — but that more or less ended at the say of his parents when one of his three older brothers were injured doing it.

As for his debut high school wrestling season, it's been nothing short of promising.

Airola has won 32 of his 37 matches, and last weekend he won a regional title over Monarch's Dillon Roman, who clinched his first state win nearby on Thursday. At Day 1 of state, the Panthers freshman was cool throughout.


He credits Mom.

"She's been really focused on getting my mind straight," Airola said. "When I first started (wrestling) and I was going to these national tournaments, I'd be everywhere. I'd be really nervous, thinking about the next matches and all that."

Airola said his mother signed him up for a program on Wrestling Mindset, a company that helps wrestlers with the mental aspect of the sport. And at the Pepsi Center, he said all the distractions faded into the background.

Boulder’s Joey Airola, left, gains position on Poudre’s Tony Garcia Lopez during their Class 5A championship preliminary round match Thursday
Boulder's Joey Airola, left, gains position on Poudre's Tony Garcia Lopez during their Class 5A championship preliminary round match Thursday night at the Pepsi Center. Airola improved to 32-5 on the season and moved into Friday's quarterfinals. Visit for more photos. (Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer)

"I have a routine, I get my mind straight, and get nice and warmed up," Airola said. "I breathe in and out, kind of just clear my head. I just try and clear my head. I don't try and think about the match or who my opponent is. It's like first point, get my shot, and it's about breathing."

Elsewhere, Monarch's Vince Cornella and Longmont's Drake Engelking, the area's two defending state champs, got through their first matches with ease. Engelking will face Broomfield's Antonio Welch-Soto in the quarterfinals on Friday.

A few other highlights: In 4A 152s, younger brother Brayden Engelking advanced, and so did Mead's Emilio Chavez. In an all-area bout in 5A 120s, the Coyotes' Ryan Kuykendall pinned Legacy's Keegan Hoffman. And Broomfield's Tyler Carpenter recorded a six-second pin in 4A 285s.

Team-wise, Monarch led all point-getters from the area in 5A and sits ninth with 14. Broomfield leads the area in 4A with 21 points and sits fifth.

Quarterfinals begin Friday morning and semifinals for all classes start at 6:45 p.m.

Brent W. New: and @brentwnew