In face of tough competition, Devils delivering |

In face of tough competition, Devils delivering

Ian Cropp
Vail, CO Colorado

There are two things Eagle Valley wrestling coaches can never be accused of: booking a cake-walk schedule and puffing up their kids’ accomplishments.

So when Ron Beard and Luke Cross, the Devils’ coaches, are smiling, good things must be happening.

“I’m surprised, yet we knew we had kids that had a lot of heart,” Beard said. “They’ve really stepped it up. In the first two weekends, Cross and I came out and said (our team) was in better shape and beating kids we shouldn’t be beating. It’s neat watching the kids.”

With a well-rounded squad, the Devils have threats at many weight classes, although they are feeling the loss of a top-ranked wrestler, sophomore James Harvey, who is out for the season with injuries.

“It’s neat; in the past we’ve had kids like Mason (Ewing), Kylan (Kottenstette), Chris Harvey and B.J. Jaramillo, and those kids are awesome, obviously,” Beard said. “But I don’t remember a team, even when we had seven kids go to state, where we have nine kids place at a tourney. We left Middle Park for the first time ever with nobody having a losing record ” that’s a tough tourney.”

The Devils started out the season at Middle Park with 22 wins and nine losses as a team, including 18 pins. At the 160 weight, Dwayne Noriega took third, beating four kids in a row on four pins. At 103, Colt Ewing advanced to the semifinals, recorded two pins and gave the toughest match of the day to the eventual champion. Chad Strakbein, this year’s captain, was second at 112 and finished with two pins. Joey Bajza went 4-1 and had two pins at 125. Freshman Matt Kottenstette went 3-2 with three pins in a tough bracket that matched him up with a ranked 5A wrestler at 130.

Trent Book took second at 152 with three pins, while Andrew Hill was second at 140 with two pins.

“We took sixth place with half a squad,” Beard said. “It was a 16-team tournament.”

Last Thursday at Glenwood Springs, the Devils beat Battle Mountain but fell to the Demons. Against Battle Mountain, Eagle Valley only lost one match outside of forfeits, with Strakbein, Dustin Ward (119), Bajza and Hill recording pins and Ewing winning by tech fall. Kottenstette, Bajza, Ewing and Book recorded wins against Glenwood.

Two days later, the Devils headed to a tough Delta Panther Invitational and came home with a team-record seven placers. Ewing, Bajza, Book and Hill all took third, while Strakbein and Noriega were fifth and Kottenstette was sixth.

Ewing beat the No. 3 2A wrestler, and Bajza went 3-1 to win the consolation bracket and move to 10-2 on the season. Kottenstette was sixth and lost to the eventual champion.

“He’s used to winning,” Beard said of Kottenstette. “And winning a lot. He hates to lose. He came off the mat after losing to a Cortez kid, and I told him, ‘You are the only kid that Cortez kid won’t pin in this tourney. He was mad you messed up his record.'”

Strakbein lost in the semifinals to a 5A wrestler.

“He’s really taken over the leadership role,” Beard said. “Kids look up to him and respond well to him. He’s a great kid with outstanding character.”

Hill went 4-1 and fought back after his loss to take third, and also beat the No. 4 5A wrestler. Book had a tough draw to start out and fell to the New Mexico state champ but went undefeated the rest of the day. Noriega started with two pins before losing in the semifinals and finishing fifth.

While the record of his wrestlers has made him happy, Beard is equally impressed with the way they’ve conducted themselves throughout all matches.

“One of our philosophies is being in shape,” Beard said. “We do a lot of drills that come after sprinting and pushups. We believe good position and stance wins matches, but it’s when you can do these things when you are exhausted. I see kids keeping good stance at the end of matches. It’s easy to have a good takedown in the first 30 seconds, but it’s the kids who can do it five minutes later, … and that’s what we’re seeing.”

This weekend, the Devils head to the famed Warrior Classic in Grand Junction.

“We do have a stacked schedule,” Beard said. “We’ve never taken in super-great records. What we are trying to do is, when you wrestle a state champ, then go to the Warrior tourney and face 5A teams, it makes a kid from Rifle and Palisade, who are studs, too, seem more real and beatable.”

Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or

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