GJ’s Rider dominates foes on way to winning second straight crown
DENVER — There was no lack of pageantry for the final night of the Class 5A state wrestling championships.
There were the dimmed lights as officials, coaches and wrestlers filled out the mats on the Pepsi Center floor for the Parade of Champions and the loud cheers from sections of fans that filled all but the far upper rows of the arena.
It was familiar ground for Josiah Rider, who won a state championship last year at 152 pounds. Wrestling at 145 this year, he knew the building, knew the atmosphere and knew the thrill of the result.
So he did it again, beating Ponderosa’s Parker Benekas with a first-period pin to win his second consecutive state championship.
“I’m just excited,” Rider said. “Every time you win a state championship, it’s the year-end goal that you have and it feels good to get it done.”
Get it done, he did.
After spending the first 32 seconds of the match feeling out Benekas, the Tigers’ junior pounced. Rider took Benekas to the mat with a two-point takedown and never let up, getting the pin at 1 minute, 35 seconds.
Rider’s win was the only state championship for the Tigers, who had second-place finishes from junior Dylan Martinez at 132 and freshman Dawson Collins at 106.
The Tigers finished second as a team with 141½ points. Pomona won the team title with 192½ points.
The Tigers showed signs of promise for the years ahead. In addition to the three wrestlers who battled for championships, Grand Junction also had four other wrestlers place fifth or higher.
Senior Shawn Garcia took third place at 220 pounds. Senior Tyren Castonguay (126) and junior Seth Latham (170) each took fourth in their divisions, and sophomore J.T. Skalecki took fifth at 160.
“I’m extremely proud of this team, top to bottom,” Grand Junction coach Cole Allison said. “Each one of them, one through 10, scored points here and each one of them fought for the team. We came up a little short here and there but not due to lack of effort.”
Rider took the quick route to the championship. None of his four matches went out of the first period and two lasted less than one minute.
Despite the seeming ease of it all, Rider said he was never fully comfortable. It was only one year ago that he won his first state championship after beating Cherry Creek’s Matthew Finesilver.
Finesilver entered that match as a defending state champion and Rider knew the same distinction would make him a target.
“I felt more pressure to win this than last year,” Rider said. “I really had nothing to lose last year. A returning state champion is who I beat in the finals (last year). Just in the back of your mind, everybody is out for you and you’ve got to be dominant no matter what.”
Though Rider felt the exuberance of his state championship win, Collins left his match feeling the opposite.
While others at the tournament celebrated, Collins took a seat in one of the tunnels underneath the Pepsi Center stands and cried.
Collins, who entered the tournament with championship aspirations, lost by a 23-9 major decision in the 106-pound title match against Castle View’s Malik Heinselman.
Heinselman, the defending champion at 106, was one of three undefeated wrestlers in the 5A classification.
Collins made it to the championship match after a first-round pin in his opening match, which was followed by a pair of 7-0 decisions to put him in the finals.
“He happened to catch the No. 1 ranked kid in the country and that’s a tall task on a good day,” Allison said. “He also happened to show his only case of freshman jitters all year long in that match, so if you combine the two, it’s a tough out. But Dawson kept his head up, he competed and competed and gave everything he had for that particular match. He should leave with his head high and extremely proud of all he’s accomplished this year.”
He struggled out of the gate against Heinselman, trailing 12-1 after the first period. By the end of the second, he narrowed the deficit to 16-8.
Garcia finished his high school career with a memorable third-place match against Brighton’s Ian Helwick.
Neither wrestler scored in the first period and the two traded points in the second and third periods. With Garcia trailing 4-3 early in the second, Helwick seemed to be controlling the match until Garcia flipped him on his back and had two near-falls before finally completing the pin at 3:47.
“I just figured that it’s probably my last time ever wrestling again in my life, why not go for it all, try and get the win,” Garcia said. “We definitely needed it for team points.”
It was the first time Garcia has placed at state, though he had made the tournament twice before. He also had one of the Tigers’ longest roads to a spot on the podium. Garcia won his final four matches of the tournament after being pinned by Douglas County’s Micah Smith in the second round.
Garcia was sad to see the potential end of his wrestling career but also was proud of the state contender that the Tigers have become.
“We’ve definitely got a great group of coaches around us that push us every day and make us better, teach us the right things and set the mentality that we’re not going to lose,” Garcia said. “This is a team that’s up and coming, look out for them. They’re going to be good.”