Shelton: 1st MHS freshman to win state wrestling title
Cowboy freshman T.J. Shelton dominated and won the 2A 160-pound bracket at the 2013 Colorado State Wrestling Championships held last week in the Pepsi Center in Denver.
The Cowboys qualified eight wrestlers for the state tournament and all but one won at least one match, helping Meeker finish eighth as a team, including two fifth-place finishers, junior J.C. Henderson (138) and sophomore Tristin Pelloni (113). Shelton was Meeker’s first state champion since Joe LeBlanc won his third title in 2007.
“The kids put in a lot of hard work and they continue to improve,” head coach J.C. Watt said after the state tournament. “It’s a nice reward for the kids to know their hard work is showing, even the kids that did not qualify improved during the season and several made the trip over to be a part of it. It was good to see them there.”
“Improve,” was Watt’s word for the season, a team goal each week and he hopes the wrestling program continues to “improve.”
“I hope it creates more interest in the school and the community,” Watt said. “It’s exciting and T.J. winning builds the excitement.”
Shelton entered his first high school state tournament as a Region 1 champion, with a 32-6 record and ranked No. 4 by On the Mat Rankings. In his first match against Sy Donaldson, Shelton’s first move in the “Big Show” was a Suplay, taking the Holly senior from his feet, to Donaldson’s back for a takedown and three back points. Shelton went on to win the match 16-0, then defeated Juan Fraire of Sedgwick County/Fleming 9-2 in the quarterfinals, setting up a semifinal match against Taylor Weirich of Eads. Shelton advanced to the finals with a 9-3 victory, spoiling Weirich’s hopes of an undefeated season in his senior year. All of the other top six placers in Shelton’s bracket were seniors, including Austin McDonald, from Del Norte, the No. 1 seed in the state tournament with a 38-1 record and Shelton’s opponent for the championship match.
Shelton showed no fear against the older opponent, taking him down twice and putting McDonald to his back once for an 8-2 win and his first state championship. Shelton showed great poise for a 14-year-old when speaking to reporters after the championship match. He thanked his parents, coaches and teammates and said he’s not thinking about winning four state titles, just another one next year.
“I’m going to take it one year at a time and start working tomorrow for next year, well, maybe not tomorrow,” Shelton said with a smile.
“T.J. handled the pressure well mentally,” Watt said. “He has a lot of wrestling experience and he works hard.”
Watt was also impressed with the way junior J.C. Henderson wrestled in his second state tournament, where he earned a fifth place medal.
“J.C. wrestled smart. He’s a very hard worker and should be a good senior leader next year,” Watt said.
Henderson advanced to the semifinals and lost to Seth Harrinton of Sedgwick County/ Fleming, then defeated Alex Tarin of Wray for fifth place.
Meeker’s other state placer was Tristin Pelloni, who lost his first match of the state tournament but came back to win four matches, including a major decision (12-2) against Case Baughman from Dove Creek, to earn a fifth place state medal.
“Tristin is another hard worker with a good attitude,” Watt said of the sophomore. “He started off slow but finished well. It was a good experience for Tristin.”
Meeker’s lone qualifying senior, J.R. Crawford, was one win away from placing, as was freshman Devon Pontine.
“J.R. left it all on the mat, he just came up short,” Watt said. “We appreciate the four years of hard work he put in.”
“Devon realizes he’s at the level to win at the state tournament and this was a good experience for him,” Watt said of the 152-pound freshman.
Meeker sophomore Kylloe Goedert and junior Aaron Cochran both won one match at the state tournament and sophomore Anthony Watt now has two state matches under his belt.
“Kylloe had a great tournament and Aaron is good enough to place he just didn’t pull it out,” Watt said. “We will return seven wresters with state experience next year.”
Watt and assistant coach Lee Overton, along with volunteer assistants Barney LeBlanc and Willy Theos, are already working on next year, as middle school wrestling started before the high school season was complete.
“Hopefully the middle school kids are excited about how the high school kids performed and it will give them some confidence that if they work hard, they can compete at the next level,” Watt said.