Monarch’s Vince Cornella knows the target is on his back heading to the state tournament this season.
Having won two state titles already, Cornella looks to win his third title competing in the 126-pound bracket in Class 5A. A win will also make him one of the top wrestlers in the state going into his senior season next year.
The game plan this week is to go out and do what he’s done the previous two times, and he knows that previous accolades do not guarantee things will be the same this year.
“I just try to treat it the same as every year,” Cornella said. “I don’t think too much about the last two. You have to use different game plans and develop.”
Cornella is one of three local wrestlers looking to defend their state titles from last season at the Pepsi Center.
Oran Huff of Lyons admitted last season after winning the state title at 126 pounds in Class 2A that he was not sure at the beginning of that season if he could do that. This year, the junior is filled with confidence, backed by a 42-1 record that includes beating several opponents from Class 4A and 5A during the regular season.
If Huff is to win the state title this year, it may come by beating a two-time state champion in Trey Geyer of Cedaredge in the finals. Also a junior, Geyer moved up to 126 pounds this season after winning his first two titles at 120. Geyer is the top seed in the state bracket and enters with a 38-3 record.
“I think if (Huff) keeps wrestling the way he has this season and doesn’t let up, he can beat Trey Geyer,” Lyons coach Brandon Lohr said. “He just has this pace that he brings to the match that I don’t think many can really compete against. I’m confident he can take it this season. He brings an intensity to match that other guys struggle with.”
The other returning state champion is Darren Green of Broomfield. Before taking off to continue his wrestling career at the University of Wyoming, Green will look to win his second consecutive title. He moves up a weight class to 145 pounds this season, but a familiar name could be waiting for him in the finals in Aaden Valdez of Pueblo East, the same man he defeated for the state title last season.
Green and Valdez faced each other during the regular season at the Top of the Rockies tournament back in January, where Green scored a takedown in sudden victory to win 3-1.
“I get the experience that I need and the nerves going a bit before state,” Green said after his win back at Top of the Rockies.
The three state champions will draw the most attention, but they will have plenty of teammates joining them and looking to make noise for their teams at state.
Monarch will send seven wrestlers to state and have been ranked as one of the top teams in Class 5A this season, sitting as high as No. 3 in the On the Mat rankings. Dillon Roman and Nathan Fitzpatrick each won regional titles last weekend along with Cornella, and Ryan Kukendall has the most wins of any wrestler in the 120-pound bracket with 40.
“They have had an amazing year as a group,” Monarch coach Ezra Paddock said. “They are fun to watch. They are excited for everyone’s success, not just our best guys. Winning that regional title was the first Monarch has ever won and everyone scored team points to get it done.”
Lyons will also send seven wrestlers to state in Class 2A. Karson Bean is the top seed at 195 pounds after winning a regional title last week, and fellow regional champions David Gardner and Christian Keller will look to reach the podium this season.
“I think the team across the board is different this year,” Lohr said. “The taste of success last season has driven us all season. My team peaked at regionals this past week and if we can bring same intensity we had then, I think we have a great shot.”
Broomfield leads the area schools with eight state qualifiers. Tyler Carpenter wrestled for the title at 285 pounds last season and looks to return to the finals following a regional title. Ryan Vigil, John Beau Hostler, Antonio Welch-Soto, Morgen Watt and Bryant Walker also won regional titles and are some of the top ranked guys in their weight classes by On the Mat, setting the team up to get multiple wrestlers on the podium this season.
Other top wrestlers to watch
Two other wrestlers that made it to the finals last season are back and looking to redeem themselves with a state title.
Joey Airola of Boulder wrestled for the 106-pound title as a freshman last season and hopes to make a similar run to the finals at 113 this week. A potential rematch with Brighton’s Kenny Sailas, the man he lost to by decision 7-0 in the finals last year, could await him in the semifinal round. The two faced off at the NCCT tournament just before winter break and Sailas got the decision win 1-0.
Joey Joiner of Legacy lost a close 2-1 decision in the finals at 145 to Antonio Segura of Regis Jesuit. The two could meet again in the finals, but to make it there, both will have to navigate through a bracket of experienced wrestlers where 14 of the 16 competing are either juniors or seniors.
Rudy Lopez of Erie has been the top-ranked guy in Class 4A at 113 pounds by On the Mat for most of the season and will look to finish at the top of the podium this year. Lopez lost to Brendon Garcia of Pueblo County, an eventual four-time state champion, in the semifinal round last year but battled back to finish in fourth place. He moved down in weight this season after competing at 120 pounds in the postseason last year.
Holy Family had a small team compete at state last year but saw Hunter Branson take fifth place at 170 pounds in Class 3A. This season, Branson has been on a roll, going 26-2 and winning a majority of his matches by first-round fall. Branson was ranked No. 2 by On the Mat late in the season.
Also ranked No. 2 by On the Mat in his weight class is Emilio Chavez of Mead. Chavez will wrestle at 170 pounds in Class 4A this week. He took second place at the regional tournament, losing to top-ranked Tristian Perez of Windsor in the finals. Perez is the top seed in the state bracket.
Longmont has two returning placers in John Nicholas and Brayden Engelking to lead their team of six wrestlers at state. Logan Novara, who did not place last year, has been ranked No. 2 in Class 4A at 106 pounds by On the Mat this season.
2020 state qualifiers
106 — Justin Dean, Jr., Frederick; Logan Novara, Jr., Longmont; Noah Lopez, So., Erie; Hunter Powell, Fr., Lyons.
113 — Joey Airola, So., Boulder, Dillon Roman, So., Monarch; Rudy Lopez, Sr., Erie; Matthew McCarthy, So., Holy Family.
120 — Ryan Kuykendall, Jr., Monarch; Bini Barila, Sr., Longmont; Alex Carrillo, So., Frederick.
126 — Vince Cornella, Jr., Monarch; Randy Guerra, Jr., Mead; Ryan Vigil, So., Broomfield; Oran Huff, Jr., Lyons.
132 — Kaeden Rasmussen, Sr., Legacy; Gus Fonseca-Walker, Jr., Erie; Gio Wilson, Sr., Longmont; John Beau Hostler, Jr., Broomfield; Christian Keller, Jr., Lyons.
138 — John Nicholas, Sr., Longmont; Andrew Sandoval, Jr., Skyline; Dequlyn Keller, Fr., Lyons.
145 — Max Fredricksmeyer, Sr., Monarch; Joey Joiner, Sr., Legacy; Darren Green, Sr., Broomfield; Caleb Domenico, Sr., Mead; Michael Brazeau, So., Erie; Grayden Bridwell, Jr., Skyline; David Gardner, Jr., Lyons.
152 — Brayden Engelking, Sr., Longmont
160 — Gavin Funk, So., Legacy; Nathan Fitzpatrick, Sr., Monarch; Gavin Malek, So., Erie; Victor Rangel, Sr., Frederick; Logan Odell, Jr., Lyons.
170 — Theron Sovndal, Jr., Boulder; Simon Worthley, Sr., Broomfield; Emilio Chavez, Sr., Mead; Hunter Branson, Sr., Holy Family.
182 — Grady Funk, Sr., Legacy; Alexx Tapia, Jr., Monarch; Caden Silva, Jr., Skyline; Antonio Welch-Soto, Sr., Broomfield.
195 — Morgen Watt, So., Broomfield; Karson Bean, Sr., Lyons.
220 — Austin Fiala, Sr., Monarch; Adam Lynch, Sr., Legacy; Justin Sanger, So., Longmont; Daniel Torres, Sr., Niwot; Bryant Walker, Sr., Broomfield.
285 — Oscar Aranday, Jr., Skyline; Jovani Lopez, Sr., Niwot; Tyler Carpenter, Sr., Broomfield.