Hitting the Jackpot
Jackpot Dual win gives Palisade's Espinoza momentum
He had a target on him. Randen Espinoza understood that.
When you reach the state finals and return the next season, you’re a proving ground. You’re going to get your opponents’ best. What Espinoza didn’t expect was the greatest obstacle in his way: himself.
The Palisade High School senior’s mind became his worst enemy, and self-imposed pressure got to him.
“I was just scared of losing,” he said. “I felt like I had to win them all.”
The result was a rough start in which Espinoza rarely resembled the Class 4A state runner-up at 106 pounds, and he suffered six losses before the holiday break.
Wednesday, in his first action since the break, he looked more like the kid who went 43-5 a year ago, winning the 113-pound championship match of the Jackpot Duals over Grand Junction’s Tyren Castonguay, a formidable sophomore.
Espinoza took an early lead and eventually recorded a pin in 3 minutes, 53 seconds. Espinoza said Castonguay made a mistake, and he sunk a reverse half in deep, “and he couldn’t do much from there.”
“It was a great win. He’s a tough kid,” Espinoza said. “I’m glad I got a tough match under my belt.”
Espinoza said Palisade coach Tanner Ridgway and former Bulldogs wrestling coach Brian Rush talked to him during the holiday break, and it helped.
“They told me I have to just wrestle and let the chips fall where they may,” Espinoza said. “Go out and do my best and not be afraid of losing.
“Tonight, I was more confident in every move I hit. ... I was more confident in doing what I know how to do.”
Ridgway called Espinoza’s win in the finals “much-needed” and added, “That was the best he wrestled all year.”
As a team, Grand Junction wrestled the best Wednesday and emerged as the champion of the Jackpot Duals, which features the four District 51 wrestling programs.
The Tigers put the most wrestlers in the finals with 10 and claimed the most individual titles with six. That gave them 180 points, followed by Fruita Monument’s 143.5. Fruita had eight finalists and five champions.
Grand Junction’s individual champs were Dylan Martinez (106), Josiah Rider (138), Isaac Rider (145), Seth Latham (152), Jacob Trujillo (160) and Tyler Zook (220).
Latham, a freshman, moved up two weights from 138 as the Rider brothers each moved down a weight class, and Tigers coach Cole Allison said that’s where they will remain.
Latham, who won his final by technical fall, said the Jackpot title was nice, but, “It’s just a start, all leading up to state.”
As well as he wrestled, he said, “I feel like I need to step it up and really do what we do in the wrestling room,” referring to technique and being mentally sharp and tough.
Of the Tigers’ four runners-up, Cody Lacy came the closest to a championship, bowing 1-0 to Central’s Riley Garner-Orr, one of two Central champs.
Garner-Orr, who scored a second-period escape for the match’s lone point, is used to close matches against Lacy, having edged him 4-1 and 4-2 in two meetings a year ago.
Garner-Orr said Lacy is a tough opponent, and he appreciates having tough matches against him, believing it will help him come the postseason.
“I wish all my matches were like that,” he said. “Those are the best matches. The closer they are, the better.”
The Warriors’ other champion was Kyle Martinez at 132.
Fruita’s champs were Daniel Van Hoose (126), Jay Westcott (170), Ty Taylor (182), Jacob Seely (195) and Clayton Voytilla (285).