It was a cliff hanger.
Actually, three cliff hangers.
Three Pagosa wrestlers qualified for this week’s state tournament during regional competition at Dolores Huerta in Pueblo last Friday and Saturday, but the result for each was undecided until the last possible moment.
Each wrestler — Dalton Gregory, Cody Snow and Morgan Shelton — secured a slot at state with a win in a wrestle-off, the last chance to keep the season alive.
The heroics capped a tourney that, until that point, had mirrored the Pirates’ season — a difficult process pitting relatively inexperienced athletes against older opponents and a record of expectations thwarted by injury and illness.
In the week prior to the regional event, the Pirates’ hopes of putting a complete and healthy team on the mats were dashed. Two wrestlers went down to injury, several more took ill.
“It was one of the toughest, most grueling days of wrestling I’ve been through at the high school level,” said Coach Dan Janowsky. “ We wrestled okay, but there were so many other factors. The emotional component is more intense in the post season and that favors experience. We lost Alonzo Hernandez at one ninety-five and Chris Archuleta at one twenty, both with rib injuries, and others were really sick during the week. We’ve been in a hole all season long. I thought we were coming out of it, but it turned into a tough week.”
It’s not that the wrestlers who competed didn’t give it their all, said the coach. “The kids wrestled real hard but some older, more experienced opponents upped their level. We battled all day long on Saturday, but it was one of those days when the momentum gets away from you.”
And, when the dust settled after the finals on Saturday, there was a question whether any athlete from Pagosa would travel to Denver for the state tournament.
“By the end of the day,” said Janowsky, “we hadn’t qualified anyone. We had four wrestle-backs left, with four chances (the fourth being Chase Patane’s match at 182).
When the wrestle-backs were complete, three Pirates moved on.
“I give our guys high marks for dealing with the pressure,” said the coach. “Their backs were against the wall. At the end of the day, we had our best three matches.”
Gregory fought seven matches at 126, The Pirate came from behind in five of the seven.
“In addition,” said Janowsky,” Dalton wrestled against guys who had beaten him before. He was tested. It was one of the guttiest tournaments I remember, with seven matches, full length matches, and overtimes.”
Gregory earned three wins by fall, pinning Chance Boehm of Florence, Corey Craddock of Colorado Springs, Christian and Dominic Frankmore of Manitou Springs.
Gregory lost overtime decisions to wrestlers from Trinidad and Alamosa and won by decision against an athlete from Monte Vista.
In his wrestle-back, Gregory defeated Bayfield’s Alex Rodriguez 4-3.
Snow drew a bye in the first round then lost to a Centauri wrestler.
The Pirate came back with a 22-5 technical fall over Noah Eurioste of Dolores Huerta, then lost a 9-5 decision to an opponent from Alamosa.
Snow fashioned a 12-5 major decision over Erick Cardenas of Trinidad for the win in the wrestle-back.
“Cody had two really critical matches,” said the coach. “He was on the brink of elimination from the tournament and from the season and he won both (Dolores Huerta and Trinidad) in convincing fashion.”
Shelton returned to action at 170 after an absence due to injury of more than a month. The sophomore won two decisions (against Dolores Huerta and Colorado Christian) and lost two by fall (Monte Vista and Bayfield).
In his wrestle-back, Shelton met Kenny Roberts of Florence and earned the trip to Denver with a 7-5 victory.
“Morgan hadn’t wrestled since January fifth,” said Janowsky. “He trained around his shoulder injury and he had to learn a different kind of wrestling in order to return, He basically had to learn to wrestle left-handed and he was careful regarding his pace and his attacks. He did an excellent job.”
Other Pirates won matches at the regional tournament.
Cody Kimsey won two matches at 113.
Silas Thompson got two victories at 132.
Danny Shahan won a match at 138.
Keith Archuleta got two wins at 152.
Patane won twice at 182.
Now, all that remains is the state tournament at the Pepsi Center, beginning this afternoon and continuing through Saturday.
“Our biggest problem is bracketing,” said Janowsky. “Finishing fourth, we’re paired with the regional champ from somewhere else. But, if you’re going to wrestle a top guy, it’s best to meet him early. We’ll try to use that to our advantage. The toughness of our regional tournament could give us an edge.”
Action in Class 3A begins at 3 p.m. today.