Smile, you’re going to state
After their final season practice, the 12 qualifiers loaded into two SUVs and headed out of town with a police and fire escort. Two years ago, only three Devils qualified and, last year, Eagle Valley sent seven. A full practice room the last week of the season had both players and coaches smiling, albeit only right before the camera snapped.
“I look around, especially when we warm up, and think, “wow, there’s 12 guys,'” junior 171-pound Charles Faulhaber said. “When you’re down there, and you only see one or two guys (on the other teams), you can really show the rest of the state that we have something good going on here.”
For head coach Jeff Lueders, the number of qualifiers showed how a long season of hard work can pay off, something much of the team echoed.
“This is it, the meet that matters,” Lueders said. “It gets to be a rough road to Saturday. Hopefully, we’ll pick up a lot of wins (today).”
Each weight class will wrestle first-round matches today, then wrestle the winners and consolation brackets Friday and Saturday, with the championships scheduled for Saturday evening.
Here’s some information on the Devils’ dozen:
n Tommy Barela, senior, 103 pounds – Born Jan. 8, 1987, Barela started wrestling in third grade. He finished with a 30-2 mark on the season, including a regional championship. Barela will be competing in his second state tournament, and said, “Last year, I made it into a bigger deal that it actually was. I got really nervous. This year, I think it’s just another tournament.”
n Mason Ewing, freshman, 112 pounds – Born Oct. 24, 1987, Ewing began wrestling in fifth grade and won the regional meet. The freshman will enter state with a 25-8 mark, and said about qualifying in his first try, “Going into regionals, I knew I could make it. I didn’t know I’d do as good as I did.”
n Kylan Kottenstette, freshman, 119 pounds – Born Dec. 19, 1987, Kottenstette (31-10) began wrestling when he was five years old and finished third in the region. His journey to state gained steam in December at the Warrior Classic, when, “I wrestled this guy from Hotchkiss. I knew he was ranked second in the state and I stayed with him. I’ve been focusing myself pretty well. I want to do something at state.”
n Chris Best, sophomore, 130 pounds – Born May 20, 1987, Best started wrestling when he was eight years old, but was sidelined for most of the season with a wrist injury. Still, he finished with a 12-7 mark and a third-place regional trophy. “I was able to stay in shape pretty well,” Best said. “There’s a few kids I’d like to beat (at state).”
n Tim Reitz, junior, 140 pounds –Born April 18, 1986, Reitz proved why he was one of the leaders on the team this year with a regional championship and a 31-5 record. Reitz is making his second trip to state. “I don’t want to get intimidated by the atmosphere,” he said. “We all have the same goal we’re going for. It shows how well the hard work has paid off.”
n Chris Harvey, freshman, 145 pounds – Born June 3, 1987, Harvey jumped to 25-11 on the season with a second-place finish in regionals. “Before the season started,” he said, “my goal was to get to state as a freshman. I want to wrestle the kid I lost to in the finals at regionals again. He’s in the other bracket, so I’ll have to wrestle a long time to get him.”
n Greg Hollis, senior, 152 pounds –Born Dec. 9, 1984, Hollis started wrestling in seventh grade and finished fourth in the region. “I wrestled pretty well in regionals,” Hollis said. “I lost to a kid I shouldn’t have. I beat him earlier in the season by nine points.”
n Phil Rivera, senior, 160 pounds –Born Aug. 31, 1984, Rivera nailed down a state bid with a fourth-place finish in regionals and ended up 22-15 on the season. “This was my goal, to make it to state in my final year,” Rivera said. “I need to beat this Olathe kid. He’s beaten me a few times this season.”
n Charles Faulhaber, junior, 171 pounds –Born Sept. 5, 1985, Faulhaber (21-10) began his wrestling career in seventh grade and finished second in the regionals. “I was really happy after that semifinals match,” Faulhaber said. “I wanted a little better ending, but it’s OK.”
n Brian Saldana, sophomore, 189 pounds –Born Oct. 6, 1986, Saldana began wrestling in seventh grade and snuck into the state tournament after winning a clutch, wrestle-back fourth-place match. “In eighth grade I saw my brother wrestling,” he said. “I got into it then. Going to state is awesome. It’s going to be an experience.”
n Jeff Bair, senior, 215 pounds –Born April 5, 1985, Bair (18-8) will be making his third trip to the state tournament after taking fourth in regionals. “I still get nervous,” he said, “but not as bad though. The freshman have really picked it up this year. They work hard. We all work pretty hard.”
n John Saldana, senior, 275 pounds –Born May 31, 1985, Saldana began wrestling in seventh grade and finished second at regionals. His trip to state will be his first. “In my last match at regionals, I wasn’t really prepared,” Saldana said. “I didn’t wrestle like I could. At state, I want to place. I want to get on that podium.”
Ryan Slabaugh can be contacted at (970) 949-0555 ext. 608 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.