No one ever expects it to be easy, and last weekend's 42nd annual Warrior Classic wrestling tournament at Central High School in Grand Junction was no exception. Out of 386 competitors, 10 Delta County and Olathe wrestlers advanced to the championship round. Of them, only one Warrior champion emerged.
Wrestling at 160 pounds, Paonia junior Grey Neal went 5-0 at the Warrior. In the championship match Neal won by an 8-5 decision over the No. 2 seed, Class 4A junior Chase Engelhardt of Thompson Valley, on Saturday night. Englehardt placed fourth at the Warrior in 2017.
This is Neal's first Warrior title. He won one Warrior match his freshman year, and last season was 3-2 at 152 pounds. After the Warrior he went on to win a 2A Region 1 title and place third at state. He's currently 14-0 and was seeded first at the Warrior.
Neal was feeling confident after winning in semis to an 11-5 junior from South Pointe, South Carolina, the team that traveled the greatest distance to compete at the Warrior. No one knew anything about them, so Neal assumed he was the best of the best. "If they're the best, you've just got to go out there and wrestle," he said.
Not only was it Neal's first Warrior title, it was his first time to place at what many consider to be the toughest tournament west of the Rockies. Including South Carolina, this year's tournament attracted 40 teams from Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, among them, the best of the best, including past Warrior champions and defending regional and state champions. Getting to the finals at the Warrior, said Neal after winning his semifinal match, "is huge. It's cool to come here and know that I'm up there with the best."
It's been a rough couple of years, he said, but all the hard work is finally paying off. "You never know if it's paying off until you see it," he said.
Paonia placed three wrestlers and scored 112.5 points to place 11th. Senior Sackett Chesnik finished fourth on a 4-2 loss to Moffat County. Chesnik lost in semifinals to the No. 2 ranked wrestler from Pagosa Springs.
At heavyweight, junior Levi Peterson defeated sophomore Christian Matus of Hotchkiss by fall (0:58) to place fifth. Peterson had a semi-
final loss by fall in overtime (7:29) to 10-3 4A senior Cayman Garduno of Pueblo Central. Matus, who was seeded 56th, had the largest seed-place difference of the tournament.
Senior Anthony Felice (195, 10-4) finished sixth.
Cedaredge scored 100 points to place 13th at the Warrior. Sophomore Trey Geyer (126) was one of three Bruins to advance to the championship round. The defending state champion at 120 pounds, Geyer placed third in the Warrior as a freshman. On Saturday night he wrestled sophomore Randon Deets for the championship. Deets is a state champion from Uintah, Utah, who won the 126-pound Warrior division in 2017.
Bruin senior Taj Van der Linde (10-3) finished second, wrestling to an impressive 2-1 loss to Grand Junction senior Hunter Tobiasson, a 5A state runner-up who placed second at the Warrior in 2017 and is currently first in state On the Mat rankings. Van der Linde placed fifth at the Warrior last year.
Sean Dale (132, 14-3) finished sixth.
At 285, Derek Sanchez defeated wrestlers from Montrose (fall 3:37) and Uintah, Utah (decision 8-3) before a quarterfinal loss to Palisade senior Ricardo Valenzuela.
Delta sent one wrestler into the championship round. Senior Aiden Barrios (170, 12-2) placed fourth on a 3-0 loss to Marcus Martinez, an 11-2 senior from 4A Pueblo South. Senior Gauge Lockhart won three of five matches and was one win away from placing.
Olathe placed two wrestlers. At 152, junior Brent Gray (16-3) placed fifth. Grey, who was seeded 42nd, won the fifth-place championship match on a 10-8 win over a 17-7 senior from South Pointe, S.C.
At 145 pounds, Clay Yarnell lost in semifinals to Tannen Kennedy of Meeker (14-0) and wrestled back to place fifth.