Nick Jurney joins the Colorado Preps staff for expanded wrestling coverage this year and he will file a couple of reports each week throughout the season.Â He starts his work by providing a season preview of Classes 4A and 5A.
Colorado Preps will also post weekly rankings from ON THE MAT and have a weekly audio interview with Tim Yount.
Defending Team Champion: Pomona
Returning Individual Champions (2017 wt. class): Malik Heinselman, sr., Castle View (106); Justin Pacheco, jr., Pomona (113); Colton Yapoujian, jr., Pomona (120); Theorius Robison, jr., Pomona (132); Jacob Greenwood, sr., Poudre (138); Josiah Rider, sr., Grand Junction (145); Gabe Dinette, sr., Lakewood (152); Tate Samuelson, sr., Castle View (170); Cohlton Schultz, jr., Ponderosa (220).
Talk about a who’s who.
The returning standouts to the Class 5A wrestling field include multiple-time state champions, all-Americans, and even a world champion in the mix.
Indeed, this 5A field is full of heavy hitters, and it should make for a very entertaining winter season. In all, nine of last year’s 14 individual titlists return with their eyes set on bringing home another life-sized bracket and commemorative coin-flipper from The Can in February.
Among those returning is two-time state champion Cohlton Schultz of Ponderosa, who added to his already ridiculously full trophy room by winning gold at 100 kg. for the United States’ Greco-Roman squad at the Cadet World Championships in Greece this past September.
Now, just around three months removed from conquering the world, Schultz returns to his native land with the hopes of keeping his in-state unbeaten streak going. The puffy-haired junior, ranked as the No. 9 pound-for-pound high school grappler in the whole country by FloWrestling (No. 2 at 285), has compiled a 99-2 record as a representative of the Ponderosa Mustangs. His only two losses during high school competition have both come to highly regarded out of state opponents.
This crop of 5A studs features eight wrestlers who have already committed to continue on at Division I universities, including Castle View’s Malik Heinselman (Ohio State), Lakewood’s Gabe Dinette (Stanford), Grand Junction’s Josiah Rider (N.C. State) and Poudre’s Jacob Greenwood (Wyoming).
Heinselman is rated as the No. 5 wrestler in the country at 120 pounds, and boasts remarkable national and international experience of his own. The senior not only a two-time Colorado state champion, but also a three-time freestyle national champion and a two-time Cadet World Team member.
Then of course, there’s Jacob Greenwood. The Poudre High stud and Wyoming commit is aiming to cement his legacy as one of the greatest in Colorado prep history by winning a fourth state championship come February. Greenwood claimed his first title at 126 pounds before climbing the ladder to 132 as a sophomore and 138 a year ago.
Together, these individuals have helped put a national spotlight on the Colorado prep wrestling scene – Â and deservedly so. But how do all of these studs fit into the team race within their own state? Once again it appears the road to glory at Pepsi Center will have to roll through Arvada, where Pomona figures to reload with a formidable lineup from top to bottom. Among the Panthers’ hammers are defending champs Justin Pacheco, Colton Yapoujian and Theorius Robison, along with returning placewinner Wyatt Yapoujian (106).
Ready to contend from the Western Slope, however, will be the Grand Junction Tigers, led by the aforementioned Rider (a two time state champ and three time placer), Dylan Martinez (runner-up in 2017), and Seth Latham (fourth in 2017).
Defending Team Champion: Pueblo County
Returning Individual Champions: Brendon Garcia, jr., Pueblo County (106); Josh Nira, sr., Greeley Central (113); Dominick Serrano, so., Windsor (120); Andrew Alirez, jr., Greeley Central (126); Andy Garcia, so., Pueblo East (285).
Just what is it about Pueblo that makes it such a hotbed for prep wrestling talent?
Maybe it’s the city’s long and storied tradition that drives interest into the youth programs. Maybe it’s the desire to show the competition how the Steel City does things. Or maybe there’s something in those green chiles.
Whatever it is, Pueblo is once again proving to be the class of the class, with two-time defending team champion Pueblo County leading the way in terms of returning state points from a year ago.
Hot on the Hornets’ heels will be cross-county foes Pueblo East and Pueblo West, which finished fourth and sixth, respectively, a year ago.
Pueblo County lost arguably the most accomplished senior class in city history, paced by the Willits twins (now at Oregon State), but the champs still have a whole lot of firepower in their arsenal.
Junior Brendon Garcia, a two-time state champion in his own right, returns after another busy summer in which he claimed a second Greco-Roman national title in Fargo, N.D. Expected to compete at 113 pounds, Garcia’s storied accomplishments have helped garner him national attention as the No. 14 106-pounder in the nation according to FloWrestling.
Fellow state champions Josiah Nava, who recently committed to D1 Utah Valley, and Dante Garcia return to the mix along with talented sophomore Jax Garoutte and two-time state placer Nathan Bonham.
Pueblo County certainly likes to put its mettle to the test, which is a large reason why the team has been so successful over the past several years. The Hornets will travel to some of the toughest tournaments not only in the state, but the nation, including the Walsh Jesuit Ironman in Ohio and the Doc Buchanan Invite in California.
Over on the East side, the Hornets will have to contend with an up-and-coming powerhouse which features its own decorated wrestlers. The Eagles feature a dangerous lineup that features multiple time placers in Andrew Lucero, Zion Freeman, and 2016 champion Jace Trujillo, and is bookended with the defending champion heavyweight, sophomore Andy Garcia.
And then there’s sophomore Aaden Valdez – a fifth-place finisher as a freshman – who has made an awe-inspiring and rigorous comeback to the mat after a fireworks incident left him without several fingers and an eye this summer. Valdez is already back to his winning ways, scoring a 7-0 win over Canon City’s Shane Coffey on Wednesday to open the season.
Elsewhere in the state, there are still plenty of challengers to the Hornets’ throne. That includes the runner up for the past two years in Greeley Central, which returns state champions Josh Nira and Andrew Alirez (FloWrestling’s No. 9 ranked wrestler in the nation at 132 pounds), among others. Â
On the Front Range, Windsor sophomore Dominick Serrano became the latest frosh phenom to complete the crucial first leg on the road toward Colorado prep wrestling immortality, winning the 120 pound state title as a freshman with an unblemished 50-0 mark. Serrano, ranked No. 20 in the nation at 120 pounds according to FloWrestling, leads a Wizards’ squad that has potential to make noise come February.