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Wrestling: What’s at stake in pandemic season

Restrictions, sanctioned girls season and new-look state tournament will be big parts of 2021

DENVER, CO - Monarch High School's ...
Boulder Daily Camera file photo
DENVER, CO – Monarch High School’s Vince Cornella has his hand raised after defeating Pomona High School’s Jakob Romero during a 5A 126-pound championship match during the last day of the CHSAA State Wrestling Championships on Saturday at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
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With the Colorado High School Activities Association’s Season B officially underway, the early theme amongst wrestling programs in the area is the smaller numbers on the mat due to local restrictions amid the pandemic.

Several coaches in touch with BoCoPreps said they already feel the aftershocks of Boulder County Public Health’s recent restrictions on the sport. The most impactful as far as numbers go, of course, being the fact that wrestlers had to either 1.) Choose to participate as part of CHSAA’s second round of sports and remain in remote learning or 2.) Forgo the season altogether and attend in-person learning.

When reached out for comment, Broomfield coach Jimmy Zechmann talked about the many faces who weren’t there on the first day of practice Monday. Frederick’s Joey Gardner and Niwot’s Bobby Matthews were among other program heads reporting lower numbers via BoCoPreps’ preview questionnaire.

As far as how these restrictions will go on to shake up the state’s high school wrestling scene, and for how long, is ongoing. What the reported lower numbers and a season going forward amid a pandemic mean to the 2021 season and beyond, meanwhile, is left to be seen.

Below are a few of the things at stake during this unusual wrestling campaign.

The legacy of Monarch’s Vince Cornella

After seeing it nearly go by the wayside after BCPH put a blockade on wrestling two weeks ago, only to reverse course a week later, the senior looks like he’ll have the chance to join the small list of wrestlers that have won state titles in each of their four years in high school. According to CHSAANow.com’s list, there have been only 28 in Colorado history — although last year was a bit strange in that there were four alone. Cornella will look to join in March. A season ago, he won his third title while not dropping a single match to a wrestler from Colorado.

Where do restrictions leave top local teams?

Broomfield finished third a season ago in Class 4A and returns preseason nationals placer Ryan Vigil. Monarch was seventh in 5A, same as Lyons in 2A. Longmont was 10th in 4A. For them and perhaps some other rising local teams, the question is ‘Will their new and returning talent be enough to float them a top-10 finish?’ Or does a season flooded with local restrictions and low numbers simply fall with a limp?

Girls wrestling begins first-ever sanctioned season — now, how will the pandemic affect that?

The sport of girls wrestling in Colorado looks headed in a nice direction with growing numbers and interest. As for some local news around it, Legacy announced the hiring of Jeremy Cortez as its girls wrestling coach on Twitter earlier this month. Longtime Mead coach Ty Tatham, meanwhile, said Rachel Salaz will lead the Mavs’ girls program per his BoCoPreps.com questionnaire. Last year, Mead sophomore Kassandra Reyes, at 111 pounds, and Longmont sophomore Jenna Joseph, at 136s, were all-region wrestlers. For this year, CHSAA said the girls’ regional and state tournaments will “closely mirror” the boys.

Changes to the state tournament

It’s the biggest spectacle among all the state’s championship events. It’s loud, packed — and that’s just in the parking lot. But with another twist brought to you by the pandemic, the number of qualifiers for the championship tournament has been significantly slashed. The presence of fans will probably be minimal, too. Per the sport’s bulletin, wrestling will have just eight instead of 16-man brackets in each weight class. The tournament as a whole will be two days instead of four.

The growing sensation of Lyons senior Oran Huff

The Lions may have enough to make a run at title in Class 2A. And assuredly, so does Huff once again. Huff — the kayaking sensation by water, the wrestling power by mat — is eying a third state title after going 46-1 last season. As a team, the Lions have seven returning state qualifiers, including David Gardner who took runner-up to four-time champ Wesley VanMatre of John Mall.

Will it be a repeat for Erie’s Rudy Lopez?

The Tigers senior won 3-2 in the 113-pound tiebreaker over Pueblo Centennial’s Dominick Castro to win his first state title last season. The talented Lopez is signed with the University of Northern Colorado.