Hotchkiss will send eight wrestlers to state this Thursday. In the Class 2A Region 1 tournament, the Bulldogs finished third with 178 points and placed 10 wrestlers.
And while three wrestlers won regional titles and eight qualified for state, if anything stands out, it is 132-pounder Traycer Hall's championship win. Head coach Richard Flores called Hall's performance, "the highlight of the night. Talk about most improved; he looked fantastic this tournament," said Flores. "He beat some kids he's never beaten before."
After pinning his way to the first-place match, Hall (31-14) upset number two seeded Cedaredge senior Alex McCracken (34-8), by a 4-0 decision. "Those matches happen," said Flores.
Hall is one of two Hotchkiss freshmen to qualify for state. After pinning his way through the bracket, he faced Cedaredge senior Alex McCracken for the championship. In January McCracken defeated Hall, 12-4, in a dual match. "He beat me fair and square," said Hall. Heading into the finals, Hall said that match was in his mind, and all he could do was "give it everything I had. Leave it all on the mat."
In the third period and leading, 2-0, Hall had McCracken leg-locked and picked up two more back points. At that point, he said, "I kind of knew I had it under the wraps."
Hall is the son of assistant coach Matt Hall and younger brother to Colton Hall, who last year ended his high school career by placing third at state. "We wrestle a lot in our living room," said Hall.
And while Hall entered the season at number six in On the Mat rankings and has been ranked all season, "I very much exceeded my goal." About half the wrestlers in the regional bracket either beat him during the season or wrestled close matches," he said. "With a little bit of motivation from some coaches and a friend from Norwood, we got me in the right mindset."
Flores said he knew Hall had it in him to win, "But to turn it on today was awesome."
At 120, junior Sergio Campos is seeded first in state after winning his third straight regional title on a decision over Meeker's Jacob Pelloni. In semifinals Campos pinned Cedaredge freshman Trey Geyer, who was first in state rankings after pinning Campos in January.
Flores called Geyer "a very dangerous freshman. We watch ourselves real close against that one."
Senior Devin Curtis had a convincing championship at 195 pounds. Curtis opened with a 33-second fall over Rangely and won the title on a 15-second fall over the number three seed from Mancos, tying for the fastest match of the tournament.
At 145, Jace Peebles finished second on a 7-2 loss to top-seeded Paonia senior Clay Campbell. Peebles dropped to 145 for regionals after wrestling the season at 152, where he was ranked 10th. "I thought it was a good move for him," said Flores.
Freshman Robert Cochran maintained his composure to beat the same kid twice and placed third. Had he lost the third-place match he would have had a wrestle-back, said Flores. "Those are scary matches."
Making their first state appearance are junior 126 Presley Pene, who wrestled back to third place after a semifinal loss to Cedaredge. At 220, senior Kevin Chavez finished fourth. In looking at the four wrestlers who competed in the 220-pound division, all ranked in the top five in state, Flores said he believes they are the top four wrestlers in the state.
Heavyweight Nolan Egging placed third. Egging, a senior, is a first-year wrestler. The team needed a heavyweight, said Flores. "We pulled him out of the crowd. Second week in February, he's going to state."
In the third-place match, Egging executed a headlock throw in sudden victory overtime to pin senior Erik Shafer of Soroco. Shafer is also a first-year senior wrestler, and both celebrated their state qualification.
Egging said he wrestled a little in kindergarten, "But I hated it." This year, he said, was "the last chance."
"It takes guts to do what he did," said Flores. "He stuck with it, and good things happened for him."
There were some heartbreakers, said Flores.
Hotchkiss was looking at qualifying at least nine for state, but 106-pound junior Landon Mayberry didn't make weight. Mayberry was seeded first and ranked second in the state. That also would have given the Bulldogs another 20 or more points and possibly a higher team finish. "It happens," said Flores.
In looking ahead to the state tournament, which opens tomorrow, wrestlers who place third or fourth in the region may have a tough bracket, but they should know that they can still win it all, said Flores. He recalled a Delta heavyweight who placed fourth in the region and went on to win the state championship. "All they have to do is work hard and finish strong," he said.