Warrior Classic is a good early season test for grapplers
It’s the equivalent of the high school state wrestling championships before Christmas and one of the most popular annual sporting events in the Grand Valley.
The Warrior Classic wrestling tournament Friday and Saturday at Central High School comes with history — the first Warrior Classic was in 1977, with the Central Tournament taking place long before that — and has hosted teams from as far as California and Oregon and boasted champions such as four-time undefeated national champion Iowa State wrestler Cael Sanderson.
“It just brings so many people to the valley,” Central High coach Laurence Gurule said. “It’s one of the biggest events in the area along with Country and Rock jams in the summer and the JUCO World Series.”
Historically, Warrior Classic champions are set up for a successful season.
“Usually if a kid places at this tournament, they’re probably going to place at the state tourney,” Gurule said. “It’s a grind.”
Some of the team favorites include Paonia, Pueblo South, Palisade, Arvada West and Roosevelt, which has won the past five Warrior Classic team titles. Paonia was the last local champion in 2005.
Area participants are: Central, Delta, Fruita Monument, Grand Junction, Grand Valley, Hotchkiss, Montrose, Olathe, Palisade, Paonia and Rifle. Green River High, Wyo., is the only out-of-state participant.
Rock Springs, Wyo., won the first Warrior Classic in 1977; Lydell Gordon of Central was the tourney’s first MVP.
Central has the most individual champions by school with 35.
Area returning champions are Grand Junction’s Jessie Hoffschneider at 160 pounds and Olathe’s Zach Shank at 125 pounds.
Palisade’s Daniel Salazar was third at 130 pounds last season. Salazar remembers his freshman season and his first Warrior Classic.
“It was pretty brutal,” Salazar said.
His advice for first-time wrestlers at one of the state’s most competitive wrestling tournaments? Don’t hang your head during Christmas break.
“Take it as something you need to learn from,” he said.
Central’s Willy Holdren is coming off a weekend in which he defeated a returning Utah state champion, Raston Yeates of Box Elder, by decision. Holdren is 12-0 at 152 pounds. And he has a slew of schools from the Rocky Mountain region coming into his house. With Colorado Mesa’s basketball teams playing at home this weekend, Brownson Arena wasn’t available, so the tournament shifts to the Warriors’ gym.
“You definitely feel like you have to protect your house, like Under Armor,” Holdren said. “You definitely get excited, go that extra rep.”
But he won’t lose any sleep.
“There is no sleep in wrestling,” he said.