For young wrestlers, new to varsity action, the learning experience is often difficult. Like the sport itself: unforgiving.
The Centauri Invitational meet Saturday gave a number of Pirate wrestlers ample opportunity to learn. It was difficult for the team, losing four of five duals, but the competition gave a predominantly young roster a clear look at some quality teams and wrestlers, and at what they need to do to ascend to the top-ranks in the sport.
The five-team pool in which the Pirates found themselves at La Jara was anything but friendly, and it took the lion’s share of the day for the Pagosa athletes to forge a win. The going was made harder yet by the fact that several wrestlers who would normally fill varsity slots were missing from action due to injury and two members of the team — Dalton Gregory and Danny Shahan — were sent by Coach Dan Janowsky to another meet in hopes of giving them a chance to face probable opponents in the upcoming regional tournament.
The first team to face the Pirates at La Jara was Hotchkiss — currently ranked No. 9 in Class 3A. Pagosa came away on the losing end of a 47-17 score.
Chris Archuleta earned six points with a win by fall over Travis Leger at 120 pounds.
Chase Purcell fashioned a 20-3 technical fall to beat Dustin Head at 152.
Next up was a bit of nastiness the Pirates should put behind themselves as quickly as possible — a 79-0 loss to Rocky Ford, a perennially tough 2A program, currently ranked second in the state.
Against Buena Vista, Pagosa had a bit more luck, but still trailed 51-27 at the end of the match.
Silas Thompson got his first win after returning from an injury layoff, pinning Damon Brown at 132 pounds.
Keith Archuleta earned a 9-8 decision over Malik Johnson at 138 pounds.
Alonzo Hernandez pinned Antonio Navarette in a battle at 220 pounds.
The next team to dual the Pirates was Centauri — the Falcons ranked No. 6 in Class 3A. Pagosa dropped the match 65-6.
Keith Archuleta fought to an 8-2 decision over Dan Sowards at 138.
Chase Patane decisioned Jensen Hamilton 9-6 at 182.
The Pirates saved their victory for the final match of the day, a close 30-28 win over Gunnison.
Chris Archuleta pinned Dustin White at 120.
Thompson worked another fall, pinning Cody Willis at 132.
Purcell earned six points, pinning Israel Valentin at 160.
“We’ve had to shift our focus,” said Janowsky. “We had some good moments against Hotchkiss. We took on Rocky Ford next and we knew it would be tough to win the match. Against them, I could see some of our guys doubting themselves.”
Momentum, in wrestling, is a tricky creature. The tide can swing quickly, and dramatically, and doubt is never the wrestler’s friend.
“That Rocky Ford dual affected the dual against Buena Vista,” said the coach. “Then, we took a break and afterward came back to wrestle Centauri. Despite the score, I was impressed with how our guys wrestled; the quality of the dual was noticeably different. It started with Keith Archuleta wrestling a good match. And Cody Snow (145 pounds), even though he lost his match, really battled hard. He set an example and really picked up the tempo for us. We were much more combative.”
It was a combative performance that Janowsky was looking for, knowing that, especially with a young team, an aggressive stance, win or lose, is the foundation of better things in the future.
The change in attitude paid off in the final match of the day, against the Gunnison Cowboys.
“We’re both decent programs,” said Janowsky,”each facing a difficult year. We each gave up the same number of forfeits and it came down to the last match. We needed a major decision to tie, and we got the fall (in Thompson’s match at 132). It was a small reward, but it felt good.”
From the outset of this season, Janowsky has said his team is “middle of the pack.” With the attrition caused by injuries, at times that has been hard to see, but the coach continues to stress that his Pirates, young as they are, have talent and a very bright future — this season and in seasons to come.
“We haven’t regressed,” said Janowsky. “We knew it was going to be tough and it has turned out tougher than we imagined. But, we can still beat a lot of teams. We need to keep reminding our kids that it takes time. We have the athletes to eventually reap the rewards. We had the best week of practices last week that we’ve had all season. We worked hard, and we’re wrestling harder.”
Two more rugged duals face the Pirates before they go on to regional competition Feb. 10:
Number 1-ranked Alamosa comes to town tonight and the always competitive Bloomfield Bobcats are in town Friday. Both matches begin at 6 p.m.
“Our focus (against Alamosa) is on our measuring stick,” said the coach. “We know what we’ll define as a good performance against this team. I think we’ll give them everything we can. If we can raise our level against Alamosa and Bloomfield, it will serve us well at next week’s regional tournament.”