The lead ‘Dog
Hannigan pushing himself to repeat as state champ
The past three years, Dalton Hannigan had older workout partners who pushed him to succeed.
After a disappointing sophomore season in 2011, Hannigan proved to others — as well as himself — what he could do, winning the Class 4A 126-pound state title last season.
“I came in last year knowing I choked at state (in 2011),” Hannigan said. “That lit a fire under me to push harder and do the things I needed. I was lucky having Daniel Salazar and Justin (Ray) ahead of me placing at state.”
Salazar graduated two years ago and is wrestling at Colorado Mesa. Ray graduated last year and is wrestling at Colorado School of Mines.
“It’s weird,” Hannigan said. “When Justin and Daniel were seniors, they pushed me hard. Now, this is my last shot. Trevor Garcia and I beat each other up. This is our last shot. We both want to win it.”
Hannigan and Garcia are two of four returning state qualifiers for the Bulldogs this season under first-year head coach Lonnie Tate. He’s been the assistant coach at Palisade the past several years.
“It goes back to his freshman year,” Tate said of Hannigan. “He was always right there. He butted heads with others in the valley. He wrestles strong, but he would wrestle to survive in the end. It sunk in with him as a sophomore.
“He would’ve placed (at state) as a sophomore if he won one more match. It haunted him for a year. Last year, he had the drive. Nothing was going to stop him. I’m excited to have him back.”
Hannigan isn’t sure where he’ll wrestle this season, but he could bump up to 132 pounds.
“I didn’t worry about my weight much,” Hannigan said. “I haven’t been on the scales much since the summer duals in Paonia. I spent the rest of the summer preparing for football and lifting weights.”
He sat out the first 10 days of practice healing up from a physical football season at running back.
“I was successful last year, but it won’t help me this year,” Hannigan said of defending his crown. “I’ve got to work harder this year.
“It’s my last year and last shot. That gives me the extra I need to push harder and get myself prepared.”
The Bulldogs have seven returning wrestlers from their Western Slope League championship team, including four state qualifiers.
“We have a good group of kids back,” Tate said. “I think we’ll be OK. There are a few spots we have yet to see how it will play out.”
Because Tate has been on the coaching staff several years, he knows his wrestlers.
“It will be an easy transition,” Tate said. “There are some things I expect will be different. We’ll work technique more and continue the conditioning.”
Junior Randon Espinoza and senior Braxton Stewart experienced the state tournament at the Pepsi Center for the first time last season.
Senior Kyauna Martinez and junior Caleb Clarkson nearly qualified for state last season, and Tate is confident Quintin Day can qualify this season.
Freshman Caleb Brown (220 pounds) has a big frame and Tate said he has some potential to win a state title down the road.
Senior Pat Flynn has struggled to make weight and secure a varsity position, but could crack the lineup this year at 106 pounds, even though he checked in at 98 pounds the first week of practice. Flynn weighed 76 pounds as a freshman.
“He’s probably the toughest kid in the (wrestling room) pound for pound,” Tate said.
Montrose has five returning regional placers to complement its three returning state qualifiers. Heavyweight Jesus Casillas placed fifth last year.
“It should be a good group of kids,” Montrose coach Neil Samples said. “The seniors have been there before and the young kids are stepping up. I’m excited about this year.”
Delta has eight returning wrestlers, including state qualifiers David Brown, who will bump up to 120 pounds, and heavyweight Marcus Garcia.
Derek Horn nearly qualified for state last year, placing sixth at regionals at 145 pounds.
Rifle has two returning state qualifiers, but lost a third when Isaac Rider moved to Grand Junction. The Bears have four more wrestlers with regional experience.