Armstrong savors a title
DENVER – Mom gets the medal.
That would be Jean Armstrong, mother of the newly-crowned 4A 220-pound state wrestling champion, Eagle Valley’s Andy Armstrong.
“I think I’ll let Mom hold onto it,” said Armstrong late Saturday night from a pizza joint in Denver. “She gets really excited when I wrestle. She got nervous a couple of times at state, but, overall, she’s excited.”
While the unknown 27th Amendment to the Constitution is that mothers will always worry about their sons, not much worrying needed to be done. Andy Armstrong seemed to have this one all the way.
He is the 16th state champion in school history after pounding Canon City’s Garrett Benell, 14-3, in Saturday night’s final. He’s the first from Eagle Valley since Chris Harvey did it at 160 pounds back in 2006. At 40-0, Armstrong is the school’s first undefeated state champ since heavyweight Mike Long turned the trick in 2000, according to Devils wrestling coach Ron Beard.
And as simple as it sounds, that was the game plan from the moment he took fifth place just about one year ago at the state tourney at the Pepsi Center – win the state title and go undefeated.
“I had a lot of motivation after last year,” Armstrong said. “I wanted to do better than fifth. I worked hard to improve and feel like I did it.”
Trite as it is, it’s true -champions are built in the offseason. After taking fifth at state last year, Armstrong started another wrestling season – freestyle. He said that experience helped him helped him learn how to move on the mat and stay focused because, against the elite wrestlers, it takes only the slightest miscue for everything to go sour.
Armstrong’s summer home was the weight room – it worked both for wrestling and football. The Eagle Valley senior was big part of the Devils turning it around on the gridiron, going from 1-8 in 2011 to 8-4 and state quarterfinalists last fall.
And a winning environment is contagious. It really isn’t a coincidence that Armstrong, an all-state tackle in football, was at state wrestling with his former football teammates – Cole Nielsen (running back and 170 pounds), Ty LaFramboise (linebacker/offensive line and 182 pounds) and Joey Sanchez (nose guard/offensive line and 195 pounds).
Armstrong won the Warrior Classic in Grand Junction, generally the closest thing to a state tournament during the regular season, in December for the second year in a row.
The work continued in the wrestling room, where his name goes up on the wall with the school’s other state champions. Yes, there were a lot of tournaments and meets this year, but the room is where the real work is done – pounding and getting pounded on by your teammates.
“They’re all really good wrestlers,” Armstrong said. “They help push me everyday. They push me. I’m pushing them. It’s really a family-friendship thing.”
Armstrong made it back-to-back regional championships about a week ago in Montrose, and then arrived in Denver with four matches to go to achieve his goal. Remember, the state tournament is not an average meet in January. Everyone’s good. The four opponents he defeated this weekend finished the 2012-13 season with a combined record of 128-40.
Though he won’t say it because he’s a quiet guy to most, Armstrong made it look easy. Having been to the state meet last year, he knew how to handle the massive gaps between matches. It’s not easy to wait 24 hours to wrestle all of six minutes with your goal in sight.
Eagle Valley’s Beard, assistant coach Luke Cross and the Devils’ entourage didn’t know a thing about Canon City’s Benell.
“Andy just did his thing,” Beard said. “It was Andy having fun and going out and destroying.”
Don’t forget that Beard won the 167-pound title state title in 1986 when he was a senior at Fruita Monument.
“It’s really neat as a coach,” Beard said. “It’s knowing the feeling and trying to get that kid to that feeling. It’s so exciting that I got to be a part of it and have him beat on me in practice. All the kids share in it.”
There was no jumping or mad celebration after Armstrong won. He simply pointed to his family – Armstrongs of all generations and links were in the stands, including his parents, Bob and Jean.
“It’s amazing to be able to have them there, supporting me through everything,” Andy said. “It’s great. All this hard work finally paid off.”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.