Bulldogs’ Stephanus turns things around on mat
Football was Nick Stephanus’ sport. He only went out for wrestling because his coaches and his peers encouraged him.
He wrestled in the heavyweight position for Palisade High School as a sophomore last year, but could have — and probably should have — wrestled at 215.
“At the beginning of (this) season, I was real tentative about wrestling,” Stephanus said. “It wasn’t something I wanted to do.”
His teammates and his coaches reminded him that the 215-pound spot was up for grabs this season.
“They pushed me,” he said.
He went through the motions for the first three weeks. He came back from winter break with a different mind-set, however.
“After Christmas I decided to push it, work hard for the team,” he said. “It got fun after the break.”
The change in attitude showed in his January and February results. As a result, Stephanus earned a berth in this week’s Class 4A state tournament.
“Last year going to state was kind of far off,” he said. “This year it’s more of a reality.”
Among the things Stephanus has improved on since the beginning of the year is how he handles his opponents.
“I’ve improved my balance (in) riding people,” he said.
That and a mentality to get the first takedown and to be the aggressor have combined to make Stephanus a more effective wrestler.
He and six of his teammates will take to the Pepsi Center mats in Denver tonight for the start of the three-day Class 4A state tournament.
Palisade had a strong showing at last weekend’s Region 3 tournament, finishing second to top-ranked Roosevelt.
The Bulldogs crowned three regional champions — Daniel Salazar (103 pounds), Wesley Shingleton (145) and Aaron Wagler (189). Two others, Casey Thornton (112) and Tanner Barnes (152) reached the regional finals.
Kelly Davis (130) joins Stephanus as a fourth-place finisher at regionals.
At 37-2, Wagler brings the Bulldogs’ best record into the tournament. He reached the semifinals of last year’s 189-pound bracket and finished fifth.
Montrose and Rifle both qualified the most Class 4A wrestlers from the Western Slope. Both teams will have eight competing, including four-time state qualifier James Conrardy of Rifle, who’s ranked No. 1 at 140 by On the Mat.
Montezuma-Cortez has a defending state finalist in Justin Samora, who took second at 140 last year. At 39-2, Samora is the second seed in the 152-pound bracket.
The tournament begins this evening at 7:15 Quarterfinals are at 1 p.m. on Friday with the
semifinals at 7 p.m.
The Parade of Champions is at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, followed by the state championship matches for each class.