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Wrestling: Lyons starts strong at state championships

Holy Family’s Hunter Branson aiming to return to podium in 3A

Jeremy Papasso/Staff Photographer
DENVER, CO – Lyons High School’s Christian Keller shows his focus after defeating Dove Creek High School’s Jayden Sanders during a 2A 132-pound match during the first day of the CHSAA State Wrestling Championships on Thursday at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
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DENVER — Lyons put three wrestlers on the podium at the state tournament last season, believing it was a sign of more to come.

“I think this year is going to be a little different from last year,” Lyons’ David Gardner said. “The practices this year we’ve been putting in 110 percent, not just 100.”

The practices and experience from last season paid off with seven wrestlers qualifying for the 2020 state championships, and on Thursday, four of the seven wrestlers began their run at state with a win to help the team sit in the top 10 in the team standings with 15.5 points.

All four wins came in dominant fashion, starting with Christian Keller winning by fall in the second period at 132 pounds over Jayden Sanders of Dove Creek. Right after him was Gardner at 145, who got on top early and never looked back to win by technical fall 17-1 over Zane Varner of Rangely.

“I was pretty happy,” Gardner said. “When I had (the back), I knew I could rack up points pretty easily. It was hard to get the pin, but I tried to get the points as fast as I could and end it. I noticed how he really liked to clinch down and clamp, so I used that for my advantage.”

Oran Huff, the defending state champion in Class 2A at 126 pounds, began his 2020 run with a win by fall in the second period to Monte Vista’s Wyatt Gardner. Karson Bean was in fine form at 195 pounds, needing just 28 seconds to pin his opponent.

“I was hoping not to give very much up,” Bean said. “I wanted to keep my good moves away from the opponents that were watching me.”

Huff and Bean are particular favorites from Lyons to reach the championship match in their brackets with Huff defending his title and Bean coming in as the top seed. So far, the two have handled the expectations that comes with it.

“There is a little more pressure and a target on my back,” Bean said. “It’s just something that’s going to make me work harder.”

Hunter Powell (106 pounds), Dequlyn Keller (132) and Logan Odell (160) each lost their opening matches but will have a chance Friday to make amends.

Whether it’s the four guys who won or the three looking to bounce back from losses, Lyons is confident in getting at least half the team to the podium this week.

“If we get a lot of guys on the podium, it would put a bigger target on our backs moving forward, but it would show how hard we are working as a team,” Bean said.

Jeremy Papasso/Staff Photographer
DENVER, CO – Lyons High School’s Karson Bean prepares to wrestle during a 2A 170-pound match against Sierra Grand/ Centennial High School’s Ryan Tijerina during the first day of the CHSAA State Wrestling Championships on Thursday at the Pepsi Center in Denver. Bean won the match.

HFHS’ Branson back in familiar spot

In Class 3A, the Holy Family Tigers ended Thursday with a familiar face in still in the championship bracket. The Tigers’ 170-pounder, Hunter Branson, emerged victorious.

Branson, returning after finishing in fifth place in the same weight class last year, needed just 1:05 to get the fall of Pagosa Springs’ Will Aucion.

“My mindset this season is to just go out and have fun,” Branson said. “Every year I’ve been wrestling, it’s always been pressure and having to worry about how my family and teammates think about me, but I just want to go out and do this for myself.”

Branson’s success this season, coupled with not having to battle illness at the tournament like last year, has him confident he can return to the medal podium and finish higher.

“It’s built up my confidence a lot,” Branson said. “Even the losses have built up my confidence more. I can understand how to beat my opponents next. That has helped a lot.”

Matthew McCarthy’s run at 113, meanwhile, began with a competitive match with Eaton’s Alex Castaneda. Down 4-0 after the first period, McCarthy scored a takedown to get on the board but trailed 6-2 heading into the third. Another takedown and two back points early in the third tied the match, but Castaneda was able to get a reversal and a pin shortly after to win by fall.

DENVER, CO – Holy Family High School’s Matthew McCarthy gets two points while wrestling Eaton High School’s Alex Castaneda during a 3A 113-pound match during the first day of the CHSAA State Wrestling Championships on Thursday at the Pepsi Center in Denver. (Photo by Jeremy Papasso/Staff Photographer)