Eagle Valley sets its sights on state
Eagle Valley wrestling coach Jeff Lueders initially had his sights set on this year’s Devils team finishing in the top five at state.
After winning their season-opening tournament this past weekend with 175 points over second-ranked 3A Slope rival Hotchkiss (172), as well as ninth-ranked 4A Delta (147.5) and 2A powerhouses Meeker (147.5) and Nucla (114), Lueders might have underestimated his squad.
“Last year, we made a team goal to finish in the top 10 and we got pretty close to that,” said Lueders, whose team closed out the state tournament last year in 11th place. “This year, I was hoping to be in the top five. The way we came out the of the chutes this weekend, though, I really think we have a shot at the state title. I really think we’ve probably got four guys who could make the finals, and maybe before it’s said and done, we could get eight people to place at state.”
Lueders knows that his sixth-ranked team – new rankings will come out on Thursday – will have to work even harder now after making such a huge statement in the first weekend of the season.
He doesn’t particularly expect Hotchkiss, which won the 3A Slope title last year and finished third at state necessarily to roll over for the rest of the year, especially after losing on their home floor.
“Now that we beat Hotchkiss, I know that the stakes are pretty high,” said Lueders. “I know they’re not really happy to get second at their own tournament. It’s always nice to wrestle other people, but I really thought it was good for us to wrestle Hotchkiss, just to get them under our belts a couple of times before regionals. That will help us with confidence at the end of the year.”
The Devils edged out the Bulldogs by crowning four champions on the day with junior B.J. Jaramillo at 103 pounds, sophomore Mason Ewing at 125, sophomore Chris Harvey at 160 and junior Gabe Velasquez at 275 all winning in the finals.
Harvey may have rung up the biggest win of the day as he pinned two-time defending state-champion James Zeldenthuis of Hotchkiss in 1 minute, three seconds in the semifinals, before beating Brandon Morris of Nucla in the finals, 5-4.
“The whole crowd at Hotchkiss just went quiet,” said Lueders, after Harvey’s huge upset.
Jaramillo beat out 2A state champion Ryan Clark of Meeker in the 103-pound semifinals, before winning an 18-3 technical fall over Pat Weitzel of Delta. Ewing and Velasquez both won in decisions.
“I kind of figured we would be right in the top two or three,” said Lueders, regarding his expectations coming into last weekend’s tourney. “To go 4 for 4 in the finals, that’s what did it. For the first tournament, I was happy with the way we wrestled.”
Lueders said that the team, which returns twelve state-qualifiers, including seniors Tim Reitz (145 pounds) and Charles Faulhaber (171 pounds), will figure out how much of a contender it is with a tournament this weekend at Buena Vista as well as the Meeker Triangular on Jan. 8.
Reitz did not participate in last weekend’s meet because of an injury and Faulhaber finished in third place after losing to Tucker Lane of Hotchkiss.
“This weekend is going to be a good test for us,” said Lueders. “Three of the top teams in 3A will be there with Pagosa Springs, Centauri and Florence. Right now, it is probably us, Hotchkiss and Olathe in the Slope, but I would say we probably have the upper hand.”
Nate Peterson is a sports writer for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 608 or via email@example.com.