Championship season is officially upon us.
After three grueling months on the mat, the first days of February mean that the wrestling season is in the stretch run – kicked off with the San Juan Basin League Duals, hosted by Dolores.
Mancos ruled the roost on a night in which the Bluejays took seven SJBL titles, helping bolster head coach Ty Penning’s squad heading into the upcoming regional matches next week. The Jays continue to sit within the top five in the 2A field according to Tim Yount’s On the Mat rankings and flexed their muscles to validate their position in the polls.
It was Mancos’ Isaiah Martinez (31-7) taking the top spot overall at 120 with a second-round pin of Dove Creek’s Chad Klein to continue his winning season. In the other match in the division, Dolores’ Nathan Hill (19-22) picked up a victory, downing Ignacio’s Dillon Brann (4-23) to fire up the home crowd.
Brandon Vannest of Mancos (29-7) bested Ignacio’s Lincoln DeKay in the opening period to take top spot at 138 for the state-ranked Bluejays.
In the 106-pound division, Mancos’ Dillon Eicher (20-10) picked up a pin of Ignacio’s Aven Bourriague, while fellow state tournament veterans Ayden Mathews (29-6) got a pin at 165 pounds and Cole Dainty-Guilfoyle (32-3) pinned Dove Creek’s Myles Ives at 175 pounds to continue the Bluejays victory parade.
The Bluejays picked up another individual championship with a workmanlike performance from one of the state’s premier wrestlers when Levi Martin (33-5) took a third-period pin of Ignacio’s Zach Pontine (25-17) at 132.
Mancos’ Elliot Sam (24-11) topped Dolores’ Micah Vrtatko to cap off an evening full of blue-and-white arms raised in the middle of the mat.
Dove Creek sophomore Wade Conner (14-9) took top spot at 113, defeating Ignacio’s Joshua Kerrigan 6-1 in a cagey match. After sparring through the opening period, Conner seized momentum in the second, taking down Kerrigan to build a lead he would not relinquish. Kerrigan had defeated Norwood’s Aiden Walton to advance to the championship match.
Fellow Bulldog Tyson Beanland (20-3) captured the top spot at 150, defeating Ignacio’s Asher Gallegos in the first period for the second individual title to Dove Creek. Gallegos had defeated Mancos’ Bryce Miera to advance to face Beanland. Dove Creek’s Frankie Montoya also collected an exhibition win for the ‘Dogs.
For Dolores, senior Ethen Robson (9-2) won twice to take the title at 190 pounds, defeating Nucla’s Paxtin Caruso and Mancos’ Colten Vannest with first period pins, to capture the Bears’ SJBL individual crown.
Host Dolores helped the area showcase turn into an action-packed spectacle, making it clear that Southwest Colorado wrestling will make plenty of noise in the upcoming 2A regionals.
“It was an honor to have this tournament here,” said Dolores head coach Casen Eldredge, “to see all the talent displayed by all the teams. It was really great to see how all the area wrestlers have improved this year.”
As for his squad, Eldredge recognized the strides that his young group have made over the past months.
“We were right in a lot of our matches,” he added, “and we know that we’re wanting to be peaking this time of year – so to see some of the best wrestling that we’ve seen all season gives me high hopes for regionals.”
Nucla’s JW Naslund won the 126 title, defeating Mancos’ Quinton Martinez (23-12) with a second-round pin.
Ignacio’s Keaton McCoy (16-7) won a pair of matches at 144, including one of the biggest seesaw matches of the evening in his encounter with Mancos’ Jacob Martin, scoring a takedown midway through the second period before the duo traded scores in the third. McCoy prevailed 9-7 for the 144 crown.
With the 2A regionals on the horizon, the entire San Juan Basin League will head north to Hayden to battle for a larger prize – a team regional title and four coveted individual spots at each weight division who will qualify for the state championships at Ball Arena in Denver over the weekend of Feb. 14-16.
“We’re wanting to see wrestling in Southwest Colorado at the highest level possible,” said Eldredge, “so we know that the better the wrestlers are around us, the better that we’re going to be.”