For some reason or another, the tournaments that come right before the holiday break have blossomed into some of the premier in-season tests for many of the state’s top individuals and teams.
This season is no different.
Many of the top squads throughout multiple classifications will converge on the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland for the annual Northern Colorado Christmas Tournament.
More perennial contenders will head across the divide to Grand Junction in order compete for one of the most well-known and recognizable titles in all of the land – The Warrior.
And still others will pack up and head farther west for the Biggest Little City in America to test their mettle on the national level in the Reno Tournament of Champions.
If there is ever a pre-break slate that wrestlers, coaches, and even some parents have circled on their calendars, this is it. It’s also the final week of wrestling before the two-pound weight allowance kicks in when the calendar flips (wrestlers, rejoice)!
After this weekend, there won’t be much mat action until the first week in January. For some coaches and wrestlers around the state, the break is a good thing as it gives some time to recoup from early injuries. For others it can be an annoyance, as the layoff takes any momentum that was built up over the first three weeks and tosses it into a headlock.
Before diving into that holiday ham, let’s take a quick look at how this week shakes out.
1: Warrior Classic
Waaaaariooooors. Come out and plaaaaaaaay. The Warrior Classic, now in its 41st year as one of the region’s top pre-holiday tournaments, is loaded with top contenders once again this season.
Teams from Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, Arizona, and Utah will converge at Grand Junction Central High School on Friday and Saturday for some truly elite-level competition.
Last year, it was Grand Junction which won the title for the first time since 1992, and the Tigers will be right in the mix again this go-round. The top-ranked Class 5A team boasts some serious firepower, led of course by two-time champ and No. 1 Josiah Rider at 152 pounds.
Small school-wise, Class 2A’s No. 2 and No. 3 teams – Cedaredge and Paonia – will be testing their mettle against some larger competition.
Paonia has proven its capability to hang with the big dogs in the past, winning the Warrior in 2005 and most recently in 2012. Top-ranked Sackett Chesnik leads the way for the Eagles at 138 pounds.
2 (TWOOOOOOOOO): Northern Colorado Christmas Tournament
The Old Chicago NCCT – to be held Friday and Saturday at the Budweiser Event Center in Loveland – has plenty of crisp action on tap itself.
Looking at the field is almost intoxicating – Class 4A No. 2 Pueblo East and No. 3 Windsor are set to go at it again, along with 4A No. 4 Greeley Central, 3A No. 1 Valley and No. 3 Eaton, and 5A No. 3 Poudre, as some of the top contenders in the team race, while individually there will be plenty of dream matchups to watch across the board.
One of the more intriguing weight classes could be 120 pounds, where Castle View’s Malik Heinselman (5A No. 1), Pueblo East’s Andrew Lucero (4A No. 1), Windsor’s Vance Vombaur (4A No. 4), Discovery Canyon’s Patrick Allis (4A No. 3), and others could all be in the field.
Lucero, a three-time state placer, pinned two-time 5A champion Heinselman in the season’s opening week, but was upset last week by Windsor frosh Vance Vombaur in the semifinals of the East Invite. In fact, Vombaur further proved he belonged with the best of the division by knocking off Pueblo County’s Josiah Nava, a former state champ and ranked second, in the finals of that same tournament.
Windsor’s Dominick Serrano will be there to put his undefeated prep record on the line at 126 pounds, while Poudre’s Jacob Greenwood, a three-time 5A champ, will look to further establish his dominance at 145 pounds.
Look for expanded coverage from the NCCT this weekend at and follow the tournament live here.
3: Reno Tournament of Champions
And then, of course, there’s the Reno TOC – “Where Champions Are Born.”
Some of Colorado’s best are scheduled to make the trek to Reno, including Class 3A No. 2 Alamosa, 4A No. 1 Pueblo County, and 5A No. 2 Pomona, No. 4 Monarch, No. 8 Grandview, No. 9 Adams City, and No. 10 Broomfield.
After years of competing with some of the top in-state competition at the NCCT during the past few years, he Hornets are one of the newcomers to the TOC joining cross-county rival Pueblo West as representatives of the Steel City out in Reno.
4A’s top-ranked Brendon Garcia, who kept his in-state unbeaten streak alive with a first place finish at 113 pounds the East Invite last week, has plenty of national-level experience under his belt, while sophomore Jax Garoutte (4A No. 3, 138) is hoping to make some noise of his own in the national spotlight.
Pomona is the defending TOC team champion, topping more than 100 of the nation’s premier programs in the process. Last year, Theorius Robison (5A No. 1, 138) was one of the 14 champions born at the TOC, winning the title at 132 pounds, while Colton Yapoujian (5A No. 1, 132) finished third for the Panthers at 120.
Colorado’s other returning TOC champ, Ponderosa’s Cohlton Schultz, bumps up from 220 to 285 seeking to claim top honors at a prestigious national tournament for the second week in a row.
4: Bob Smith Invitational
Certainly the 55th Annual Bob Smith Invitational deserves a mention here. Though not as loaded as it once was in its glory days, this long-running Wray High School meet still manages to bring together a fair amount of firepower.
The host Eagles come in as the No. 4 team in Class 2A, led by the Brothers’ Rockwell – Cole at 106 pounds and Cade at 113 – who are each ranked No. 2 in their respective weight classes. Wray is coming off a third-place finish at the Roosevelt Invitational.
Also in attendance will be No. 6 (2A) Sedgwick County/Fleming, led by top-ranked Kobryn Mann at 152 pounds. Mann claimed top honors in the 152-pound bracket last week at the Limon Badger Invite.
Another team to watch as a challenger is the always-tough St. Francis High School, which crosses the state line from Kansas for an annual clash with Colorado squads.
5: Reversal! A Quick Look Back
We would be remiss if there wasn’t some sort of mention about all of the happenings from last week, particularly in Class 4A action. In a battle that is destined to last the full 12 rounds, No. 2 Pueblo East won its home invite by edging out three-time defending state champion and top-ranked Pueblo County.
The Eagles got championship performances out of Zion Freeman (182), Dom Robles (220), and Andy Garcia (285) and scored 211 points en route to topping the Hornets, thus evening the score in a sense after Pueblo County knocked off East at the Pine Creek Battle of the Best dual tournament in the season’s opening week. These two Steel City elites are sure to have many, many more exciting battles and points races this season. Buckle up.
Bonus Points
More than 50 girls hit the mat at Eaglecrest High School last Saturday in an impressive turnout and a solid building block for future all-girl’s meets.
The contingent from Douglas County High School crowned three champions, including Kaden Campbell (136), Tristan Kelly (161), and Sarah Sam (185).
Colorado High School Activities Association assistant commish Ernie Derrera pointed out that there are currently more than 200 girls out for wrestling at various programs across the state, more than double last year’s turnout.
Performance Of The Week: Cohlton Schultz, jr., 285 lbs., Ponderosa
Perhaps not-so-surprisingly, the poofy-haired Ponderosa powerhouse shone bright again in the national spotlight by winning the 24th Annual Walsh Jesuit Ironman in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. Schultz – a Cadet world champion, in case you forgot – cruised through the Ironman heavyweight bracket with three pins, including a second-period fall over Maryland’s PJ Mustipher in the final.
It’s not all that normal to see a heavyweight possess not only the strength, but the agility and finesse needed to implement an overpowering leg ride on a 285-pound opponent in the finals of a prestigious national tournament – but then again, Schultz is far from normal.