Wrestleback saves Lawson’s dream

Photo by William Woody—Montrose’s Connor Lawson battles to beat Connor O’Brien in the 182 weight class Saturday at Montrose High School.

MONTROSE — Conner Lawson suddenly realized that he had an advantage. His opponent, Devin Ward of Eagle Valley, had mistakenly nestled himself into a headlock and Lawson clamped down.

After flinging Ward to the mat, Lawson applied the torque and the referee slapped the mat.

The Montrose crowd erupted in excitement as the fourth and final Montrose wrestler punched his ticket to state.

Playing his victory over in his mind, Lawson smiles at how quickly the match turned.

“At first it just happened, then I realized, hey, I got a headlock,” he said, smiling. “I was watching (the referee) the whole time and I was like please, please, please, please, end this, please end this. And when it happened, man, it was the greatest thing ever.”

This match was the 182-pound wrestleback.

Wrestlebacks. It’s the most evil word in wrestling to some. To Lawson, it was the ultimate last chance.

It’s wrestling’s equivalent to getting your pocket picked, getting held up at gunpoint, having the “Seinfeld” Soup Nazi yank away your jambalaya.

Wrestlebacks occur when a fifth-place wrestler challenges the fourth-place wrestler, if they did not meet earlier in the regional tournament.

After his win, Lawson staggered around in a daze as family, friends and teammates surrounded the senior, hugging him, slapping his back, congratulating him.

Conner Lawson will be the unlikeliest competitor at the Class 4A state wrestling tournament this weekend.

When he enters Denver’s Pepsi Center, he’s not dreaming of that top step of the podium, he doesn’t even have high expectations of bringing home a home a medal. But he’s living the dream — thanks to wrestlebacks.

The regional wrestling tournament is all about torment and jubilation, disappointment and expectations, the pain of a season ending and the excitement of going to state.

It’s about tears and joy. What might have been and what still might be.

Ward felt the agony of defeat. He came in as the top seed at 182, but an injured shoulder hurt his chances and Lawson swiped his dream. Waiting patiently, Ward allowed Lawson to savor his victory and spend time with his supporters. Then Ward walked over, chin up, back straight and handed over his fourth-place ribbon to Lawson.

Lawson, again, looked a little stunned as he took the ribbon and shook Ward’s hand.

“That was the coolest thing ever. I have a lot of respect for that kid. He’s really cool,” Lawson said.

Conner Lawson is going to state.

“It was like a dream. I didn’t think it would happen,” he said.

Lawson is not a seasoned wrestler who has dreamed of going to state since he first tugged on a tight singlet.

This wrestleback story a little different than others. This is Lawson’s first year as a wrestler. What? A senior, who never wrestled before, and now he’s going to state?

The stocky, muscular Lawson, a linebacker on the Indians’ football team, was a physical guy who lacked technique through the early season. But slowly, he started to show he could wrestle with some of the top guys and entered regionals with a 19-14 record.

Teammate and good friend Matt Sandoval, who placed second at 138 pounds, talked Lawson into coming out for the sport last summer.

He smiles, and is almost giddy when he talks about Lawson’s journey from wrestling newbie to state qualifier.

“Just all that work he put in from start to finish, and now going to state in his first year wrestling as a senior, is just awesome,” he said.

For Delta senior Hayes McCracken, a fourth-place finish at 120 pounds was disappointing. A wrestleback match would decide if his dream would continue.

A couple of years ago, his brother Morgan lost his spot at state with a loss in wrestlebacks.

Hayes was determined to not let his pocket get picked. He pinned his opponent and celebrated saving his fourth-place ribbon and his ticket to state.

“It’s my senior year, and I want to go to state, so I wasn’t going to let guy take it way from me,” he said.

Hayes McCracken is a seasoned wrestler and he’s dreaming of winning a medal at state.

Lawson also has a chance at a medal, but for the first-year wrestler, it’s not very likely.

For Conner Lawson, he’s simply living the dream, albeit a slightly different dream. His first and final wrestling season is still alive, but Lawson has no grand illusion of winning a state title.

He smiles and shakes his head. “Yeah, that’s not going to happen.”

He’s going to state to wrestle with the best. A medal? Maybe, but even that is a long shot.

Wrestlebacks — the most joyous word in wrestling — to Conner Lawson, anyway.

This senior is living the dream, thanks to wrestlebacks and one powerful headlock.


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