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State wrestling: Stager looking to end Niwot’s title drought

Erie's Brandon Wetsch, top, works toward a victory over Pueblo West's Travis Myers during the first round of the state wrestling tournament on Thursday.
Erie’s Brandon Wetsch, top, works toward a victory over Pueblo West’s Travis Myers during the first round of the state wrestling tournament on Thursday.

DENVER — In February of 1993, a wrestler named Garin Daum won a state wrestling title for Niwot at 119 pounds.

In June of that same year, Nick Stager was born.

So when people tell Stager that winning a state title could be a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence, they aren’t kidding.

The Niwot senior is making his third trip to state, but this time, he has a legitimate shot at ending the Cougars’ title drought. Stager (39-3) began that pursuit Thursday night at the Pepsi Center with a 7-2 decision over Irvin Hernandez of Delta in the first round of the Class 4A state wrestling tournament.

“I just thought about it like, if I’m going to make it to the championship I have to win this match,” Stager said. “Now I have to do it again, again — and again.”

Stager said he was plenty prepared after his previous trips to state — “being under those lights can be intimidating,” he said — and because of that, he isn’t thinking too much about the possible storybook ending.

“That was the year I was born, 1993, but I’ve got three matches to go,” Stager said. “I’m only in the quarterfinals right now.”

Stager is the Cougars’ lone chance for a title, because their only other entrant, Brandon Slepicka, was pinned in his 220-pound bout by Pueblo South’s Jesse Gribble.

While Niwot attempts to erase 19 years of futility, Longmont has had a title winner each of the past two seasons. But the Trojans won’t have one this season. All four Trojans who qualified lost in the first round.

“All four of our guys were underdogs,” Longmont coach Adam Keiswetter said. “I guess the only one we can go home unhappy about is Forrest Wetterstrom. The ref really took control of the match. He called him for stalling twice and it really changed the whole dynamic of the match.”

Wetterstrom (29-8) lost a 7-5 decision to Pueblo County’s Jake Costanza.

“He tried to battle back from it,” Keiswetter said. “But when you give up a point, then you’re forced to wrestle a different style because you’re afraid of getting called for stalling.”

Also in the consolation bracket for Longmont: 126-pounder Ivan Wolf, a 14-7 loser to Mike Mills of Glenwood Springs; Drake Greeott, who fell 12-4 to Roosevelt’s Mason Marick at 145; and Jaime Ramos-Vega, who was pinned in 1:45 at 195 pounds by unbeaten defending champion Dwight Howes of Arvada.

Erie duo rolls on

As expected, the Erie tandem of Clay Bunker and Brandon Wetsch is moving on.

Bunker (40-0) remained unbeaten with an 11-3 major decision against Seager Oliver of Montezuma-Cortez in the 152 opener. Wetsch pinned Pueblo West’s Travis Myers in 51 seconds at 120.

“It lasted that long?” Erie coach Steve Gratton said. “He took him right down, didn’t blink, pinned him. He was ready today.”

Bunker is making his third appearance at state and Wetsch (24-6) his second. Bunker could be on a collision course to meet good buddy Nick Babcock of Broomfield in Saturday’s final. The two roomed together in Fargo, N.D., at a national tournament over the summer.

Although the Tigers tandem was forecasted to advance, Gratton still appeared relieved when they did.

“That’s the thing is, when you come out here, everyone has the same chance,” Gratton said. “Some of the upsets you’re going to see are going to be pretty incredible.”

Dunlavy representing

Silver Creek 195-pounder Nate Dunlavy said he wanted to “represent” for the Raptors, seeing as he is their lone qualifier. So far, so good.

The senior pinned Lewis-Palmer’s Joshua Glenn in 5:08 and advanced to the quarterfinals against Pueblo Central’s Evan Lancelot. Dunlavy improved to 23-4.

Frederick goes 1-for-3

Frederick got an early qualifier for the quarterfinals when 106-pounder Jesse Ortiz defeated Eagle Valley’s Damien Atencio 6-0. Ortiz (27-9), a freshman, will take on Palmer Ridge’s Rylen Thalhammer today.

The Warriors’ other two qualifiers are bound for the consolation bracket. Jacob Vargas lost a 10-4 decision to Palmer Ridge’s Billy Farmer at 182, and 195-pounder Jaron Balman was pinned in the first round by Thompson Valley’s Cody Anderson.

Lions clawed

Both of Lyons’ qualifiers — Cameron Grossnickle at 106 pounds and David Plute at 285 — were pinned in their first-round matches and will begin consolation action Friday.