Relief and expectation
Central's E.J. Barrera finally wins state title
DENVER — E.J. Barrera’s teammates waited patiently underneath the Pepsi Center stands Saturday night for their opportunity.
As soon as Barrera finished doing media interviews after winning the 170-pound Class 4A state championship, he was mobbed. Barrera, the school’s first state champion in eight years, soaked it all in.
“Man,” he said, still breathing hard after his pin of third-seeded Elias Manzanares of Pueblo South in 3 minutes, 10 seconds. “I can’t even talk right now. I still can’t believe it.”
Barrera shed a few tears after his win and received hugs from not only his teammates, but all of his coaches, too. He’s the first state champion from the school since 2009, when Matt Gurule stood atop the podium at 103 pounds.
This win was special for the Warriors as a team, and not just because it’s been eight years in between titles.
“He’s worked his butt off for the past three years,” coach Laurence Gurule said. “He’s put a lot of work in to get here. I mean, last year he barely made it here but he still placed. And all year long this year we’ve been telling him he’s got it, and he’s just got to believe that he can do it.”
He believes now.
Barrera took advantage of an opening after surviving a near takedown early in the match. He wore Manzanares out in the first minute of the second round and got him to the ground, then started to turn him over when he gained leverage from putting his left arm behind his back.
Barrera jumped off the mat to celebrate, then soon afterward jumped into the arms of assistant coaches Clint Trujillo and Lucas Archuleta before the big hugs came from Gurule and his teammates.
The emotions he felt Saturday far exceeded the ones he felt Friday, when he upset top-seeded Garrett Niel of Pine Creek to advance to the title match.
“This feels 10 times better,” Barrera said.
Barrera wasn’t the only Central wrestler to earn a podium finish.
Another Central senior, Riley Garner-Orr posted a third-place finish for the third consecutive year. This year’s finish came at 138 pounds and it came via an 8-4 decision against Tony Ulassek of Greeley Central.
“It’s disappointing, but I’m still pretty happy,” Garner-Orr said. “Third place isn’t too bad.”
Also making the podium was Central 132-pounder Andrew Bench, who made it into the fifth-place match but lost by major decision to Pueblo East’s Aaden Valdez 17-4. Bench finished the season 39-14 – one of six Central wrestlers to notch 30 or more victories this season.
Central, along with the rest of the Class 4A field, had no chance at catching Pueblo County. The Hornets had nearly doubled the point total of every other team in the tournament before the finals started and finished with 225 points, with Central finishing 10th with 61 points and Palisade taking 18th with 35 points.
Palisade’s Terrance Williams, who came into the tournament as the second seed at 195 pounds, finished his junior year on a high note with a 6-3 victory over Cheyenne Mountain’s Oliver Neumann in the fifth-place match. Williams was close to finishing much higher — he lost 2-1 in Friday’s quarterfinals and lost the fifth-place match 3-1 in overtime to Mesa Ridge’s Deric Cruz, the same wrestler he defeated in the regional final in Montrose.
Williams was the only high-seeded Palisade wrestler to place, however. Austin Bernal, wrestling at 152 pounds and, like Williams, wrestling up a weight class, was eliminated in the second consolation round along with 160-pounder Isaac Maestas.
Williams, Bernal and Maestas each won regional titles in Montrose.