Class 2A wrestling regional is state’s best

Colten Huskey of Dove Creek, right ties up Brandon Gray of Rangley

Forget the state wrestling tournament. Making it through the Class 2A Region 1 tournament is challenging enough.

This weekend at Palisade High School, 12 Western Slope teams will be trying to get their wrestlers through to next week’s state championships in Denver.

With three of the top 10 teams in the field and a total of 53 ranked wrestlers, Region 1 is regarded by the coaches as one of the toughest in the state.

“It is always the toughest in the state by far,” Dove Creek coach Shane Baughman said.

“Just out of our league we have seven No. 1-ranked wrestlers coming out.”

Dolores, Dove Creek, Hayden, Mancos, Meeker, North Park, Norwood, Nucla, Paonia, Rangely, Soroco and West Grand are in the field.

As for the wrestlers, it’s a who’s who of Class 2A wrestling. There are eight wrestlers ranked No. 1 in their weight class by On the Mat, five returning state champions and four returning state runners-up.

“We always tell our guys if you qualify to state, there is a chance you can do something in Denver,” Baughman said. “We commonly have the No. 4 qualifiers from this region beat No. 1s from other regions at state, and we like that.”

The favorite in this weekend’s regional to win the team title is Paonia, ranked No. 1 by the

On the Mat. Rangely (No. 5) and Norwood (No. 6) are other teams to watch.

“Paonia will be the team to beat,” Rangely Jeff LeBleu said. “But everyone knows what everyone else is going to do. With Paonia, we are working on stopping the cradles.”

The thing about this region is, every wrestler is dangerous. Hayden’s coach Ty Zabel said at this point, it’s all mental.

“At this point it is wrestling to win, not wrestling not to lose,” Zabel said. “You have to control tempo, you can’t be intimated or mentally scared.”

Hayden doesn’t have a full roster but does have ranked wrestlers like Mitchell Doolin at 160 pounds. Zabel said he tells his wrestlers to be focused on performing well when it counts.

“At regionals, you can’t take anything for granted, even with kids you have seen or beaten already this year,” Zabel said. “The 2A Western region is just tough, and is has been that way for the last 10 years.”

Every weight class should be competitive, but some of the weights to watch are 130 pounds with Brett Brunner (second at state in 2008 and ranked No. 1) taking on Seth Gebardi of Norwood (No. 2). At 140 pounds, returning state champion Hugh Hardman of Norwood will compete with Travis Witherell of Rangely, who was a state runner-up at 135 pounds last year.

The most intriguing matchup could come at 145, where two state champions could meet for the title.

Dove Creek’s Colten Huskey, who won the 135-pound title last year, could face Justin Smith of Paonia, the returning 145-pound state champion.

The 189-pound weight class is stacked with five wrestlers in the top 10, including Coy Letlow of Hayden (No. 4), Justin Guynes of Dove Creek (No. 7) and Steven Falk of Nucla (No. 8).

“Everyone has been working to this point all year,” Baughman said. “This is the highlight of the season and everyone is ready to qualify for the state tourney because it is such a prestigious event.”


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