La Plata County will be well represented at the Colorado High School Activities Association’s state wrestling tournament Thursday through Saturday at the Pepsi Center in Denver, as 10 wrestlers from three schools qualified for the tournament.
Ignacio, the smallest school in the county, will send the largest team, with six boys competing in the Class 2A state brackets. The six qualifiers are the most coach Jordan Larsen has had since he took over the Bobcats.
Bayfield will have two strong podium contenders, with Daniel Westbrook looking to climb higher up the podium than a year ago, while Durango is looking for its first state placer since Matt Lavengood was second in the Class 4A 120-pound bracket and Patrick Cunnion was fourth at 182 pounds at the 2015 state tournament.
Here’s a closer look at this year’s state qualifiers:
Ignacio High SchoolHunter Robbins (126)Robbins will be no pushover. He defeated Charles Curry of Meeker in the 2A Region 1 consolation semifinals to ensure his spot with a 13-9 decision. He lost the third-place match but secured the elusive fourth spot to qualify for state.
Robbins (17-15) was given the 15th seed and will face No. 2 Oran Huff of Lyons (30-8) in the first round.
Skieler Grooms (138)Grooms will return to state for the second consecutive year. He wrestled three matches at 145 pounds last year before he was eliminated. Grooms took third at the regionals with an overtime victory against Tytus Coombs of Rangley, an opponent he had previously lost to three other times this season.
Grooms (24-11) is seeded 12th and will take on No. 5 Michael Gutierrez (15-11) of Burlington. Gutierrez, a sophomore, advanced to the championship match in his regional before he was pinned. Grooms, meanwhile, has turned it on in big tournaments, including the home Butch Melton, where he finished in second, and the Screaming Eagle at Paonia, where he finished in sixth.
Dustin Sanchez (160)The final senior for the Bobcats is Sanchez, who took sixth last season at the state meet at 152 pounds. Sanchez is the ninth seed and will square off against No. 8 Isiah Garcia of Rocky Ford.
Sanchez (28-7) took third at the regional meet after rebounding from a semifinal loss to Austin Overholt of Norwood, ranked No. 2 in the bracket, and pinned two in a row for a stellar finish.
Sanchez is another big-meet wrestler, as he won the Butch Melton and placed at two other notable tournaments this season. Garcia, meanwhile, has won six out of his last eight matches, and his only two losses were to Micah Hertrich, ranked No. 3 of Buena Vista.
Clay Campbell (170)Campbell was the surprise of the regional for the Bobcats, as he finished fourth. Larsen said he “seemingly came out of nowhere.”
“He was wrestling solid for us all season, but he really turned it on at the right time and punched his ticket to state,” Larsen said. “He’s always worked hard, and when you get hot, you can be very dangerous, and Clay has been as of late.”
In Campbell’s three wins, he pinned all three opponents, including Dontea Pearce of Rangley in just 46 seconds to lock up his spot at state. Campbell (12-19) could continue his Cinderella run at state, as he is seeded 13th and will face Jorge Valdez (18-6) of Crowley County.
Cesar Pedregon (182)Pedregon could be a good dark horse choice for a placing spot in his weight class given his performances over the course of the season. Pedregon (25-11) is the ninth seed and will face No. 8 Dawson Roesch (32-3) of County Line in the first round.
Pedregon fared well at the Butch, which was preceded by a fifth-place finish at the Mel Smith invitational and a third-place medal at the Screaming Eagle. After a semifinal loss to Will Gabriel of Nucla, he rebounded by pinning his final two opponents to take third.
Randy Herrera (285)Herrera (14-6) placed second at regionals and will face Lars Sims (23-16) of Yuma in the first round. Herrera had just two matches in the regional after he received a quarterfinal-round bye. He lost in the final to Levi Peterson of Paonia, the No. 2 seed in the bracket.
Sims finished in third in his regional with a pin.
Bayfield High SchoolJohn Foutz (195)Foutz is the lone regional champion from the area heading into the state tournament. He won the 195-pound title at the 3A Region 1 meet over Caleb Janowsky of Pagosa Springs. The pair have split four meetings this season.
Foutz (36-5) will wrestle the No. 13 Jason Alexander of The Classical Academy in his first match.
Foutz dominated his way to a regional title after he took down two other top-five opponents in Janowsky and Gauge Lockhart of Delta, and he pinned both in the process.
This will be Foutz’ first time at state, and he is looking forward to the opportunity.
“This year for me has been great,” Foutz said. “Last year, I just missed out on state. Since (coach Todd McMenimen) came in, he really challenged me, and before the season began, I thought about it and said to myself that now is the time to kick it in if I was ever gonna get serious about this. I went from not even qualifying last year to winning a regional, and it’s really given me a lot of confidence in myself knowing that I can compete with anybody in the state.”
Daniel Westbrook (220)Westbrook (32-4) qualified for state last year and reached the semifinals before bowing out with a fifth-place finish. He is hoping for more this year. The No. 7 seed will wrestle No. 10 Casey Harvey (11-8) of Bennett in the first round.
“Going into it this year, rather than thinking of, ‘I have to win this,’ I just want to have fun, honestly,” Westbrook said. “It’s a heck of a lot easier to wrestle well when you are loose and not all stressed out, which got to me a bit last year.”
At the regional final, Westbrook lost to Alamosa’s Austin Trujillo in a sudden victory defeat in overtime. He has already faced three of the top-five seeds this season and said the experience has only helped him.
“I saw both Drew (Book of Sterling) and Eli Smith from Salida at the Mel Smith in Florence, and I beat both of them,” Westbrook said. “Plus, I’ve seen Austin. But really, no matter what they’re seeded, everyone at state is good and anything can happen.”
Westbrook described the scene at the Pepsi Center last year like a kid seeing his first baseball game. He remembers every detail.
“Just the thought of being at state again is awesome. The arena is so big, and I just think it’s jaw-dropping,” Westbrook said. “I remember before my first match last year, walking out is hard to explain. You walk out from this dark tunnel and these really bright lights hit you. After you adjust to the lights, my first sense was how loud it was, and I’ve never been in an environment that loud before. I’ve been there once for my brother before, but to actually be on the floor, it’s so much louder. Pretty intense, but unforgettable, too.”
Durango High SchoolPaul Smagacz (138)Smagacz (19-17) is the Demons’ senior captain, and it will be his first time at state. Smagacz took fourth at the 4A Region 2 tournament at 138 after he defeated Sergio Alvarado of Harrison in the consolation semifinals to reach the third-place match, where he was pinned by Micah Duran of Pueblo West.
“I was super happy because I’m a senior and this is my last run,” Smagacz said. “I upset some guys along the way, and I wasn’t even supposed to qualify. I was projected to finish sixth, and I took fourth to get in, so it’s just awesome to even qualify.”
Smagacz, seeded No. 14, will face No. 3 Dre Martinez (35-4) of Grand Junction Central in his first match.
“I just want to give it my all and wrestle hard,” Smagacz said. “No matter what happens, who I play or how I end up doing, as long as I compete and give it everything I’ve got, that’s all I want.”
Tyler Woodworth (145)Woodworth, a freshman who won a middle school state title a year ago, took fourth at regionals and beat James Bullock of Vista Ridge in the consolation semifinals.
Woodworth (25-12) was given the No. 16 seed and will face top-seeded Jaxson Garoutte (37-2) of Pueblo County.
“I’m going to bring it,” Woodworth said. “I’ve got nothing to lose being one of the lower seeds. Our regional was really tough with the 145s from Pueblo East and Discovery Canyon. I’ve been looking over my mistakes and refining technique. It’s really exciting for me to be able to go to state as a freshman.”
Woodworth said his experience at middle school’s state tournament will help him, though he’s never been in the Pepsi Center for a state tournament before. He’s hoping to battle to a podium finish to give head coach Leo Garand his first state placer as head coach of the Demons.
“This is coach’s first time bringing more than one person to state since he came back,” he said. “We really want to make him and Durango proud. If it’s anything like middle school state, it’s going to be pretty wild.”