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State wrestling preview: Erie’s Noah Lopez hopes to follow brother’s golden footsteps

Seventy-nine area wrestlers will head to Ball Arena Thursday

ERIE, CO, Feb. 15, 2022: Erie ...
Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
ERIE, CO, February 15, 2022: Erie High School Wrestlers, Noah Lopez, 120 pounds, left, and Ramon Salazar, 126 pounds, have the eye of the tiger when preparing for the State Championships, happening this weekend.(Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

ERIE — The last time hundreds of the state’s best wrestlers jammed inside Denver’s Ball Arena, renamed from the Pepsi Center, Erie wrestler Noah Lopez watched as his older brother win gold in front of family, friends and thousands of others.

Now he believes it’s his turn.

Colorado’s pinnacle wrestling tournament is back in Denver starting Thursday, returning after a one-year stop in Pueblo that saw a limited field and fewer spectators because of coronavirus protocols.

For many like Lopez, the three-day tournament will serve as the summation of their high school careers.

“Top of the podium, nothing else to lose. Last year, last draw, leave it all out on the mat,” the senior said when asked of his goals Monday. “Whatever happens, happens. But definitely (want) the top spot.”

Lopez has been preparing for his final chance at state gold with the help of his brother Rudy, the now University of Northern Colorado wrestler who won the Class 4A 113-pound title two years ago. And for the way things have gone for the younger brother, it feels as if he’s owed a bit of good fortune.

With two of his previous three seasons marred with injury — missing most of his freshman year with a fractured elbow and the back half of last year with a torn UCL in the other — the road back to the year’s final tournament has been a test as much mental as it is physical for Lopez.

Said Lopez, working into what he once was, and where he wants to ultimately be, has been a challenge.

“Yeah, it’s definitely been frustrating and I had some thoughts that I was never going to wrestle the same,” he said, taking fifth his sophomore season in his only trip to state. “But I talked to my brother, my coach, just on ways to help cope with all the stress and all that to get back to becoming the same wrestler that I was.”

Lopez is one of seven wrestlers from Erie that qualified through last weekend’s regional. Lopez took second in 120s at the 4A East Region at Cheyenne Mountain, while Ramon Salazar (126s) and Michael Brazeau (170s) won their weight classes.

Elsewhere in their lineup, Brendan Young (145s) and Gavin Malek (195s) finished runner-up. Carson Hageman (138s) qualified with a third-place finish while Calin Demmer (285s) got in after taking fourth.

Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
ERIE, CO, February 15, 2022: Ramon Salazar, left, and Noah Lopez, workout at practice on February 15, 2022. Erie High School Wrestlers, Noah Lopez, 120 pounds, and Ramon Salazar, 126 pounds, are preparing for the State Championships, happening this weekend.(Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

The Tigers’ state number is a sizeable tick up from last season after they took four down to the Southwest Motors Events Center and finished eighth as part of the reduced field last March. Then, the eldest Lopez and Salazar finished runner-up in their weights. Gavin Malek took third and Brazeau (in 160s) finished fifth.

“I’m going to be honest, it really, really sucked when I lost in the finals,” said Salazar, who was just a sophomore last year when he fell to Pueblo County’s Eric Griego in the 120 finals. “It was never really easy to get over. I knew I could have done so much better. So, this is the year I’m going to do it. I’m going to get first. I’m going to do better. I want to leave it all out there and I don’t want to get off the mat with any regrets. Not like last year.”

All of the state’s returning qualifiers will come into Ball Arena with more big-meet preparation after last year’s tournaments were canceled in lieu of smaller duals, and where absences due to COVID hit teams on a near weekly basis.

“It was great to be able to wrestle those individual tournaments on Saturdays because that is what prepares us for the state tournament,” Erie coach Joe Ferrera said. “The duals don’t prepare you for individual tournaments, competing for team titles, knowing you need to score bonus points and all that. It’s been great to get back to that.”

BoCoPreps’ coverage area is sending 79 wrestlers to Ball Arena, including boys and girls.

Monarch, a contender in 5A, is sending the most with 10. Broomfield’s boys team is next with nine in 4A, led by returning champ Ryan Vigil.

In the girls’ brackets, the three area teams from Broomfield, Legacy and Mead have a combined 15 qualifiers.

For a full list of area qualifiers, click here.

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