Change is good

Adjustment in style lands Espinoza back in 4A state final

Palisade’s Randen Espinoza controls Pueblo East’s Victor Gutierrez on Friday during their 113-pound semifinal match at the Class 4A state tournament at the Pepsi Center in Denver. Espinoza won 7-2 to advance to today’s championship match. Espinoza, who lost in the finals last year, will face Thompson Valley’s Morgan Fogg as the Bulldogs’ senior tries to win his first state crown.

DENVER — Wrestlers had figured out Randen Espinoza’s style. So, he changed it.

And after a rough start to the season, with most of his losses coming before Christmas, he figured out he didn’t have the attitude that a senior should have. So, he changed it.

And ultimately he changed the course that his season was on, and that brought him back to familiar, desired territory: the finals of the Class 4A state wrestling championships at 113 pounds.

Espinoza fell behind 2-0 in the second period of his semifinal match Friday night at the Pepsi Center, then reasserted himself and controlled Pueblo East sophomore Victor Gutierrez the rest of the way for a 7-2 win and a return to the state finals.

“The kid was trying to wrestle to survive, and I was wrestling to win, and that gave me the little extra that I needed,” said Espinoza, who improved to 33-8 and will face Thompson Valley junior Morgan Fogg
(42-4) in tonight’s final.

Espinoza admits when the Christmas break arrived, he didn’t see another state final in his future. Wrestlers like Montrose junior Terrell Banuelos, who beat him in last weekend’s regional final, “had really turned it up this year,” Espinoza said. “And other guys turned it up.”

But last year’s 4A state runner-up at 113 had some turning up to do himself, and it started with the new year.

“I just got my mindset right,” Espinoza said. “After Christmas break, I figured, ‘Go out with all I can do, and give it everything I’ve got. It’s my last year.’ “

Palisade coach Tanner Ridgway said Espinoza wrestled smarter in his matches and also was more intense in practice down the stretch of the season.

“Three, four weeks ago, he really started turning it up in the room,” Ridgway said. “It was like, ‘Hey, I’m a senior. It’s all or nothing,’ and it’s really paid off.”

Espinoza said most of his turnaround was mental, but he also changed the way he wrestles.

“Kids figured out what I like to do, so I changed my style completely,” he said. “I shoot more. I still get inside, but I don’t rely on that slide-by like I did last year.”

Espinoza acknowledges he caught a break when Pueblo County sophomore Grant Willits, the wrestler who pinned him in the third period of last year’s final, didn’t make weight Friday for the quarterfinal round. Willits, who stood to be Espinoza’s semifinal opponent, weighed one-tenth of a pound over the limit and had to forfeit his quarterfinal.

“I was a little sad, but grateful,” Espinoza said.

On the other hand, he wasn’t looking to duck Willits.

“I wanted a rematch,” Espinoza said. “I wanted to see how this new style would do against him.”

Palisade had one other semifinalist, as 160-pound sophomore Isaac Maestas scored a reversal with nine seconds left in his quarterfinal to win 7-5.

That brought undefeated Parker Simington of Thompson Valley, who pinned Maestas in 69 seconds in the semifinal match.


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