State wrestlers amazed by environment in Denver

The 10 mats at the Colorado state wrestling tournament are seen in this photograph high atop the Pepsi Center in Denver. The environment is captivating, rich with high-dollar lights and chattering fans.

DENVER — The lights hit you just before the crowd. In an instant, the rows of blinding bulbs give way to thousands of chattering heads, perched high above 10 mats, filling the Pepsi Center with a hallow, mumbling chorus.

For some newbies to the state wrestling tournament, the figures in the crowd are strangers, and taking to the mat is like being led into the pit of a coliseum in a foreign country.

Often far from home, having traveled by bus from cozy, smaller gymnasiums and familiar crowds, they are cast under the stares of thousands of eyes. There, they often await wrestlers they’ve only heard of by name, rank and reputation.

Don’t let it all rattle you, kid, so they’re told. This is just like any other wrestling meet. One wrestler, one mat, and wrestling is still wrestling.

Some buy that proposed mindset.

But walking through the cement tunnel for a match and looking ahead as a shadowy, gray ceiling slowly reveals more and more of a panorama with piercing, high-dollar lights and massive crowd, the wrestler discovers a whole new wrestling world.

“I walked in and just said, ‘Wow,’ ” Hotchkiss 152-pound junior Dustin Head said. “It’s just all the wrestlers, all the people, the crowd.”

Even wrestlers who have gone to national tournaments in similar-sized stadiums feel a bit rattled by the stage.

See, there’s more involved here that wrestling, It’s high school. You’re young and emotions quickly sway from being overjoyed to dismal. Yet you’re resilient enough to overcome a loss in a one-on-one dual that is an ancient practice.

The state wrestling experience extends to teammates and students and family. The wrestler, for maybe six minutes, represents them all. The whole town. How tough are those boys in Olathe?

“This is a more important tournament for us wrestlers,” said Olathe senior Zach Shank, a three-time state champion. “They know it’ll probably end up being the biggest moment of their lives.”

The wrestler’s hope, or expectation, is that the lights, the crowd, the swirling thoughts of the moment, will fade when the match starts. For some, it does.

“You just zone everything out,” Grand Junction freshman Jacob Trujillo said.

“Before you wrestle,” Hotchkiss 195-pounder David Mendoza said, “that’s when you worry. When you’re in the match, you’re focused on the other guy.”

For others, the enormity and depth of it all pervades even headlocks and half-Nelsons.

“I wrestled at state last year and it’s almost like it’s my first time here,” Olathe 126-pounder Jacob Solseth said. “I couldn’t focus on how loud it was. And all the lights just pound your head. It was like I was spinning around the mat and I could still see everything.”


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