It’s a journey to uncharted territory for a trio of Panther wrestlers, but even with the uncertainty ahead, there won’t be a group more excited to head to the capital city than the Montezuma-Cortez wrestlers.
Navigating through their 3A Region 3 competition Friday and Saturday at Gunnison High School, two seniors and a sophomore claimed top four positions in their respective weight classes to earn the right to participate in the 3A state championships at Ball Arena this upcoming Thursday through Saturday, Feb. 15-17.
Class of 2024 wrestlers DJ Vreeken and Hunter Goodall landed their spots in the field, along with sophomore Bodie Stiegelmeyer, giving the Panthers their first envoy to the state tournament since 2021. All three Panthers are making their first trip to the state tournament, with visions of podium finishes in their future.
For Goodall, ranked in the top 10 in his 190-pound weight division all season in the 3A, the regional tournament took a rocky start, as the senior (37-8) fell in his opening match to Eli Broady of Middle Park. However, Goodall’s path back through the consolation bracket left no doubt that he would climb back into a state qualifying spot. Two pins within one minute, including his third-place match victory over Moffat County’s Kaleb Duzik, made sure that Goodall would get his chance to move to the finals.
As for Vreeken (30-15), his path also included some drama, as the 157-pound standout squeaked past Moffat County’s Zach Hedman, 3-2, in the semifinals to ensure his spot in the regional final. Vreeken fell to Centauri’s Parker Buhr in the final, but by then had already booked his spot in to the state championships.
Stiegelmeyer (18-7) bounced back from a semifinal loss to post consecutive victories in the 106-pound division, including a third-place win over Bayfield’s Connor Martindale, 9-4, to earn the slot into the 16-man bracket that will decide the state title this upcoming weekend.
M-CHS had several close calls for additional qualifiers, as senior Airoughn Morris took fifth place at 144 lb. and sophomore Rusty Snyder took a similar billing at 132-pound Freshman Keaton Curleyhair took sixth place at 113 pounds with top four finishers earning state finalist tickets.
Head coach Ryan Daves’ Panthers took tenth as a team in the regional field, and now the three Panthers will gear up for their first-ever visit to the Ball Arena floor beginning on Thursday, Feb. 15 for the opening rounds of the 3A state championships.