Warrior Classic grows to include 36 teams this year
As if the tournament field at Warrior Classic tournament wasn’t already difficult, this year’s 39th version added a new level of difficulty.
The annual tournament, which routinely draws some of the top high school wrestlers from around Colorado and beyond, will showcase its largest field this year, Central coach Laurence Gurule said. Thirty-six teams will be involved in the tournament that runs Friday through Saturday at Central High School.
“I think people come here just because we have a tournament that can rival with just about anyone,” Gurule said. “The people who run our tournament do it right.”
The tournament has drawn teams from New Mexico, Wyoming, Arizona, Utah, Nevada and even Oregon. Two Utah teams — Green River and Uintah — are in this year’s field, which potentially features five returning weight-class champions, a three-time state title winner and last year’s Warrior Classic team champion.
“You could almost treat it like a state tournament,” Grand Junction coach Cole Allison said. “You obviously want to be competitive and perform well, but then you’ll have to take your guys and hit the reset button after they’ve had two weeks off.”
First-round matchups begin at 10 a.m. on Friday, with wrestling continuing throughout the day through the championship semifinals. Consolation-round matches begin at 9 a.m. on Saturday, with championship, consolation and fifth-place matches scheduled for 5 p.m. on Saturday.
The tournament previously was capped with a 32-team field, but Gurule said he and other organizers began accepting more teams recently in an effort to eliminate byes from the brackets. Last year, organizers began using the trackwrestling.com web site to input the constant flow of results throughout the day, which the Central coach said opened the tournament to more teams.
“With this available to us, we could handle up to 40 teams pretty easily,” Gurule said..
The teams and wrestlers in the tournament feature some of the best in the state.
Teams ranked among the Top 10 in Tim Yount’s “On The Mat” rankings include Meeker (No. 3 in Class 2A), Paonia (No. 4), and Hotchkiss (No. 5). Other teams that could challenge for the tournament title are Grand Junction (No. 5 in 5A) and Olathe (No. 5 in 3A).
The Tigers, who advanced four wrestlers into last year’s finals and got a weight-class champion in now-sophomore Josiah Rider, return two Warrior Classic finalists in Rider at 152 pounds and Dylan Martinez at 120.
“I like our team and we brought back a lot from last year, but we also lost a lot from last year,” said Allison, whose team returns five state qualifiers from a year ago but lost a pair of state champions to graduation.
There are plenty of individuals to watch, as well. Among them is Meeker senior T.J. Shelton, a three-time state champion who will try for his first Warrior Classic title after placing third at 170 in his first attempt last year. Also back is Paonia senior Bo Pipher, a two-time state champion who won the 138-pound title at the Warrior Classic. Central junior Riley Garner-Orr, a two-time state qualifier, was the runner-up at 120 in the Warrior Classic and finished third in the 5A state tournament.