Grappling with success
M-CHS wrestling gives strong experience with high expectations
Sam Green/Cortez Journal
Three state qualifying returners are back for Eric Smith’s wrestling squad.
An eager crop of freshmen and sophomores provide what should be good depth for what should be a strong season on the mat for Panthers wrestling.
“Right now, I have between 16 and 18 kids coming, which is great,” Smith said. “It seems like they’re a good bunch of kids. Hopefully, it’s a good building year for us to get some guys some varsity experience. It should get our numbers back up where they should be.”
Senior Ryan Daves broke into the state semifinals last year with a third-place finish at 126 pounds. It was some validation for Daves after back-to-back fourth-place finishes at Denver’s Pepsi Center as a freshman and sophomore. Now a Montezuma-Cortez High School senior captain, Daves has a dream and realizes this is his last chance for a high school state championship.
“I’m really wanting it. I’m going to work as hard as I can to do it,” Daves said about winning state. “It’s everything I’ve dreamed for.”
Daves placed fifth at the prestigious Rocky Mountain Nationals wrestling tournament in Denver on Nov. 2. He wrestled at 145, but is looking to eventually cut down to 138.
“I went 145s up there, but it didn’t hurt anything,” Daves said. “They felt kind of heavy, but I’m going to try down one weight.”
Sophomore sensation Seager Oliver placed first at 160 on Nov. 2. Oliver has bulked up and grown a couple inches from 152 pounds as a freshman. He isn’t stopping at 160 pounds, though. Oliver is looking to compete at 170s.
“I lifted weights all summer long. I’m still lifting weights real hard right now,” he said. “That national tournament a few weeks ago helped a lot for my confidence.”
Oliver drew the No. 1-seed in his weight at last year’s state tourney and lost.
This year is different.
“I think I’m going to do pretty good this year,” Oliver said. “I just devote my life to wrestling. You train like crazy. You have to have that mentality to win. I’d like to be in the (state) finals.”
Multi-sport athlete Trenton Gustafson has stepped off the football field and onto the mat. The state returner at 182 pounds is shaking off some cobwebs from football season. But Gustafson is determined to make a wrestling statement as a senior.
“This year, I’m hoping to finish good at state and possibly win it,” he said. “I feel pretty good. We’re off to a good start this year. I just want to win what I can and hopefully go undefeated this season.”
Levi Gross just missed out on going to state as a freshman. Wrestling at 126 pound this season, Smith is confident Gross will be at the Pepsi Center.
“Levi was one match away last year,” Smith said about Gross making state. “I expect him to have a much better year this year.”
Justice Ramos looks to contend for state at 145 pounds.
Celestine Fernandez, 106; Jonathan Tavra, 113; Parker Oliver, 120; and, Riley Oliver, 170; are set for their respective weight classes. Keegan Ralstin and Mason Harris are competing at 160. Tyler Hageman and Gage Krob are each looking at 152, while Chris Fish may wrestle at 132. Freshmen David Skaggs and Victor Perez will be at either 195 or 220.
The cupboard is pretty full for coach Smith. Something he hasn’t had the past couple seasons.
“I have a bunch of freshmen and sophomores that are looking pretty good to fill a large portion of our lineup,” Smith said. “I look for the (state) returners to be leaders. I look for them to push these young kids.”
The Panthers will scrimmage Dolores at home on Tuesday, Nov. 27, before opening the regular season at home with a tri-meet against Aztec (N.M.) and Dove Creek at 5 p.m. on Nov. 29.
M-CHS will grapple on the road for the rest of the season. But Smith is trying to get more home duals scheduled.
“We’re still working at it,” Smith said about the schedule. “I’m trying to get another tri (meet) set up at home later in the year. I’d like to get the kids an extra home match.”
The Southwestern League championships are hosted by defending league winner Grand Junction Central on Feb. 9. Regionals are in Montrose on Feb. 15-16, and state is Feb. 21-23, in Denver.