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State tournament: Miller second, Close fifth

Pagosa Pirate senior Dakota Miller finished his high school wrestling career with a second-place finish at 135 pounds at last weekend’s Class 3A state tournament at the Pepsi Center in Denver.

Miller entered the tourney with a 31-5 record and as one of four first-place finishers at regional tournaments held the week before. When Saturday night’s finals were complete, the Pirate was among the top two in the weight class.

Miller began his tournament with a bout against Frank Ruelas (14-14), a senior from Rifle. The Pirate sent Ruelas to the consolation bracket, pinning him at 2 minutes and 43 seconds of the match.

Next up for Miller was Clayton Johnson (35-5), a senior from Elicott. Miller advanced to the semifinal with a win by injury default.

In his semifinal match, the Pirate faced Ryan Spor (29-4), a senior from Hotchkiss. Miller defeated Spor 10-4 to earn a spot in the championship battle.

In the final, Miller lost in a 21-6 technical fall to Darrian Adams (32-7), a senior from Lamar.

“His first three matches were as good a state tournament as any kid I’ve coached,” said Pirate Coach Dan Janowsky. “His semi-final was outstanding, wrestling a kid who finished third last year.”

Miller’s performance was not lost on other observers at the tournament. “I had numerous comments made to me about how well Dakota wrestled,” said Janowsky.

“Dakota lost his edge a bit in the finals,” the coach continued. “The guy caught him early, came out aggressive and built an insurmountable lead. But, for Dakota to go from where he was last year (1-2 at the state tournament) to the state finals, and the way he did it, was very special. When you’re a state finalist, you are in special company. For me, getting someone to the finals, walking in the Parade of Champions with someone I’ve coached, is a great honor.”

Pirate sophomore Koby Close made an impression at Denver, taking fifth place at 171 pounds. Close entered the state tournament with a 19-9 record and met Gunnison junior Jesse Duft (9-11) in the first round. Close lost a 9-6 decision and fell to the consolation bracket, ready to make the long haul back into medal contention.

Close began with a 6-2 win by decision over Dan Register (16-14), a junior from Classical Academy. A 7-6 victory over Keenan Wahlert ((19-10) a La Junta senior, put the Pirate in the consolation semifinal, where he dropped an 8-1 decision to Brush senior Kyle Hefner.

Close then won the match for fifth place, earning a 5-4 decision over Brett Suppes, a senior from Hotchkiss.

“We haven’t had anyone in our practice room with a state medal for a few years,” said janowsky. “Now, next year, we will, and it is a good sign for our program. When you have a sophomore finish in the top five, you have something to build on,”

Close overcame adversity, in particular mid season injury problems, to finish the year strong. “He had to work hard for it,” said the coach of Close. He had to come from behind three times and he was behind 3-0 in the third period in two of his consolation matches. He increased the pressure, believed in himself, worked through the fatigue and battled hard for a medal. Hopefully that will have a ripple effect on everyone next year.

Senior Preston Sandoval (27-12) produced team points with two victories at 215. The Pirate beat Gunnison junior Jeremy Ruiz 5-0 in opening round action, then pinned Jefferson senior Alex Garcia (35-10) at 2:59 of their second-round quarterfinal bout.

Pagosa senior Will Appenzeller earned team points with a victory at 140 pounds. Appenzeller (28-6) pinned Olathe senior Brenton Martinez (24-10) at 2:36 in a opening round match.

Two Pirates who will return to the mat next season earned state tourney experience in Denver: junior Ty Lovato, who competed at 189, and freshman Creede Wylie, who battled at heavyweight.

Looking back on the season once the dust settled at Denver, Janowsky said, “It was a hard year, full of setbacks, one after another. The team was plagued by injuries and eligibility issues. We never had to struggle through a year like this. We did pretty well in December, then had one thing after another go bad for us.

“But, this team never accepted that, never surrendered, In the end, we had a pretty decent finish at the regional and state tournaments.

“This has been as difficult as any year I can remember, but it was satisfying. We tried to hold the line, and we got some good things out of it. And we continued to work with our younger guys to build a solid foundation for next year.”

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