Freshman helps Palisade win second straight Jackpot Duals

Fruita Monument’s Isaac Rodriguez pins Grand Junction’s Alex Martinez on Wednesday night during a Jackpot Duals 145-pound first round match. Rodriguez advanced to the final, where he lost to Central’s Anthony Feller. Palisade won the team title with 170 points.

The quivering 98-pounder paced for about 30 minutes alongside the mat, his father jabbing messages to him at one end of his walk, his coach sometimes peppering in a few words at the other.

Then, finally, Palisade freshman Randen Espinoza was on the mat for the 106-pound final, the last match of the evening Thursday at Fruita Monument High School, pinning his opponent in just more than one minute at the Jackpot Duals, which determined the best high school wrestling team in the Grand Valley.

Espinoza’s father, who earlier had filled his son’s ears with the motivational phrases such as “Don’t stop fighting until the end,” and “the other kid is a lot more nervous than you — ha, ha,” was on the top row of the bleachers, stomping a foot as Randen pinned Central’s Casey Gorsett.

The freshman came through in senior-like fashion, his pin putting Palisade ahead for good as the Bulldogs won the duals with 170 points, followed by Grand Junction (166.5), Central (120.5) and Fruita Monument (103).

Justin Ray (126 pounds), Daniel Salazar (132 pounds) and Zach Judis (182) also won championships for Palisade.

“We’ve won this the last two years and I think we work harder than anyone in the valley,” Judis said, “and we’re the toughest.”

Said Palisade coach Brian Rush of Espinoza’s pin: “That was huge for the freshman to step up like that.”

Espinoza had been nervously pacing as several other matches were contested.

“I’m 98 pounds wrestling at 106,” Espinoza said. “I’m pretty scared a lot. Dad said I shouldn’t be.”

Well, Dad?

“He’s a freshman,” Phillip Espinoza said. “I won’t get as excited when he gets older, but it’s his first time as a high schooler. It’s awesome.”

It’s also the first high school experience for Fruita Monument freshman Isaac Rodriguez, who made it to the 145-pound final in his second match of the season, but lost to Central’s Anthony Feller 11-7.

Feller said he simply wore Rodriguez out as he’s done throughout the season against the other seven opponents he’s defeated.

Grand Junction’s Jacob Trujillo, ranked No. 4 in the On the Mat rankings at 126 pounds in Class 5A, won the 120-pound final with a 4:56 pin of Palisade’s Dalton Hannigan, ranked No. 4 at 120 pounds in 4A.

Trujillo, 11-1, said he missed his eighth grade wrestling season with a bruised tailbone, then broke a bone in his hand this summer at the Rocky Mountain Nationals.

He missed so much time, in fact, that in May, during the first run he’d gone on in nearly a year, alongside a canal by his house, he didn’t want to stop.

“I was getting real tired,” he said. “I was so happy to be back.”

But this match was about being the best in the valley.

“Just because, every time you walk past a guy,” Palisade’s Salazar said, “in his head he would know the last time you wrestled him, he beat you.”

For now, Salazar, along with the rest of the Jackpot Duals champions, wouldn’t know anything about that.


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