MEEKER I The brackets are set for the 2016 Colorado State Wrestling Championships, and Meeker will have wrestlers in 10 of the 14 brackets, including four regional champions, one of whom has an opportunity to make Meeker and Colorado history.
Last year, the Cowboys finished as the 2A state runners-up, and although the defending state champion Rocky Ford Meloneers are picked to win again, the Cowboys, currently ranked No. 2 by On the Mat Rankings, will certainly be in the race for a team title again.
Meeker senior T.J. Shelton became a four-time regional champion with a dominate 26-10 technical fall in the championship match of the 170-pound Region 1 bracket. Last year, Shelton joined former Meeker wrestling greats Keenan Turner, Brandan Stewart and Joe LeBlanc as three-time state champions for the Cowboys and this year has the opportunity to become Meeker’s first-ever four-time state champion and Colorado’s 19th.
“We will do our best to keep him in the right frame of mind and mentally prepared,” head coach J.C. Watt said of Shelton’s quest.
The Cowboys finished third as a team in the Region 1 tournament behind champion Hotchkiss and runner-up Paonia.
“It was fun,” Coach Watt said of the state-qualifying regional tournament. “Our goal was to get as many over to Denver, and 10 is a good number. It was great to have five in the finals and four of them win it. The most we’ve had before is two champions.”
In addition to Shelton, juniors Sheridan Harvey (120), Casey Turner (152) and Tyler Ilgen (285), along with senior Devon Pontine (182) all advanced to the championship match in their respective weight, where all but Turner won individual titles.
“It was exciting to watch Sheridan, Devon and Tyler win their first regional title,” Coach Watt said. “A lot of hard work is starting to pay off.”
Hard work paid off for Meeker’s other regional placers: sophomore Jacob Pelloni (106), freshman Tannen Kennedy (126) along with juniors Hunter Garcia (145) and Caleb Bradford (220).
Pelloni and Bradford both finished as consolation champs while Kennedy and Garcia qualified for the state tournament in fourth place in their respective brackets.
“It was exciting to see Jacob and Caleb come back and get third,” Coach Watt said. “This is the first trip to state for Jacob, Tannen, Hunter and Caleb.”
Meeker sophomore Christopher Strate (132) and junior Ty Gibson (138) did not place but will return next year with regional experience.
Coach Watt said his wrestlers are aware of the team race, but Rocky Ford, which qualified 12 wrestlers for the Big Show, is the favorite.
“Rocky Ford will have to stumble, but Meeker, Centauri, Hotchkiss and Paonia all have a chance if they do,” Coach Watt said. “We’ll just go wrestle hard and help each kid do their best.”