LAFAYETTE — Every year, the Top of the Rockies tournament welcomes some of the best teams and wrestlers in the state and country. Many in the wrestling world would say it’s a preview for what the state tournament will bring in February.
Centaurus head coach Arturo Mata, who hosted the highly touted tournament in the high school gym, thought it may present an even greater challenge to the boys in attendance.
“A lot of teams come here and it’s a prequel to what could occur,” Mata said. “It’s an opportunity to see kids that you won’t see at the state tournament, so sometimes they say it’s a little tougher than the state tournament. You run into a 4A state champ that you’ll never see at regionals or state and you’ve got some nationally-ranked kids that you’ll get to see here.”
The docket included the top eight teams in Class 5A, according to Tim Yount’s On the Mat rankings, as well as five of the top ten in Class 4A. The finals were littered with matches between the top two wrestlers in their respective weight classes.
Boulder’s Joey Airola, who entered the match ranked second at 132 pounds, dethroned Monarch’s top-ranked Emilio Trujillo-Deen in their title match. The senior Panther made his move in the third period, after being tied at 3-3 at the end of the second, to defeat the senior Coyote, 6-3. Trujillo-Deen made a costly error in the final seconds en route to just his sixth loss (now 20-6) of the season.
“I knew he was going to be a defensive wrestler from the beginning,” Trujillo-Deen said. “I already knew his hips were going to be a problem but I was managing to get through to his hands. Towards the end, third period, I don’t want to make excuses but apparently, I read the time wrong. I did something pretty desperate thinking it was nine seconds left and coach said it was 19. It’s whatever. I’ll improve, get him next time.”
Airola improved to 24-1 and took much pride in the win after faltering in another major competition, the Northern Colorado Christmas Tournament, just a month before. If he can fine-tune the mental side of his wrestling, he believes he can take it to the next level in the weeks leading up to state.
“I’m pretty happy with where I’ve been,” Airola said. “I’ve gotten a lot better since the Christmas tournament, where I lost and got second. I’ve been working hard to get better and that match just proved that I need to keep going and getting better.”
The TOR served as a nice sounding board for 5A fourth-ranked Monarch, which enjoyed trips to three title matches and had five placers in all. Finishing fourth among the 33 teams in attendance, behind stalwarts Pomona, Ponderosa and Pueblo East, head coach Ezra Paddock was pleased with the progress of many of his athletes. He believes Trujillo-Deen, Dillon Roman (138), Cole Carlucci (182), Zach Ferrera (195), and Brayden Legge (120) all have a shot at a state title next month.
Third-ranked Carlucci himself won an exciting title match against Pomona’s No. 1 Jacob Judd. He took it all the way to the second overtime before taking him down, 5-3.
“We’ve wrestled a really tough schedule to prepare for the end here, for Top of the Rockies and league and regionals and state,” Paddock said. “A lot of our guys are right where they need to be or really close. It’s been a good couple of days and we’re going to see some of the kids we’re going to compete for state medals with.”
Legacy senior Gavin Funk found himself in a similar position as he entered the tournament ranked No. 2 at 5A 195s. He got to face off with Chaparral’s top-ranked Geoffery Freeman in the finals, falling by a tight 3-2 decision, but his journey to that match had been anything but easy for the man who had jumped two weight classes from the year before.
Sometimes, it’s worked to his advantage.
“I think wrestling a bigger weight class at 195, I can move my feet a little bit better, move around the mat a bit better and stay in shape,” Funk said. “It was pretty hard at first, getting used to moving all that weight around, but I think I’ve come along pretty well. I’ve packed on the pounds pretty well.”
Other local placers:
106 pounds: Brayden Bach, Holy Family, fourth; Cody Tanner, Broomfield, sixth
120 pounds: Brayden Legge, Monarch, second
126 pounds: Ramon Salazar, Erie, third
138 pounds: Dillon Roman, Monarch, fourth
145 pounds: Brendan Young, Erie, sixth
195 pounds: Zach Ferrera, Monarch, fourth