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RANGELY I The day coach Jeff LeBleu’s father died, the Panther wrestling team was going to travel to the regional tournament Feb. 12 in Palisade.
Then, Jerry LeBleu Sr.’s funeral was this Wednesday, the same day the Rangely wrestlers were scheduled to leave town for the state tournament in Denver.
Jeff LeBleu accompanied his team to both events. He said his father wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
“It was bittersweet,” Jeff LeBleu said of last weekend’s regional tournament, where the Panthers finished second in the team scoring and qualified a record-tying 11 wrestlers for state. “But dad would’ve had wanted me to be down there. My family urged me to do it.”
At the regional tournament, Jeff LeBleu’s father was honored with a moment of silence before the finals.
The Panthers pushed back the time they left for the state tournament by a couple of hours, so members of the team could attend LeBleu Sr.’s funeral on Wednesday.
“We’re going to delay leaving for state, because of the funeral,” Jeff LeBleu said Sunday. “All of the wrestlers want to be there. He (Jerry LeBleu Sr.) watched all of them grow up. I don’t know anybody who didn’t know dad.”
Jeff LeBleu said the team has dealt with the loss of a family member before.
“We had to deal with this with Travis (Witherell). He lost his dad two years ago,” Jeff LeBleu said. “They’re supporting me this time, instead of me supporting them. They had a little team talk there at the regionals. I think it did some good.”
The Panthers showed their support for their coach with a strong performance at the regional tournament.
Three Rangely wrestlers were champions: Devon Rose 130 pounds, Witherell 152 and Kindal Cushman heavyweight.
Second-place finishers for the Panthers were Chad Petersen 112, Cole Barlow 140 and Mike Dillon 215. Placing third were JC Chumacero 125, Logan Osborne 145 and Keane Raley 160. And finishing fourth were Blake Wanstedt 135 and Bo Armstrong 189.
The top four finishers at regionals advance to the state tournament.
If not for an injury, 171-pounder Jake Smith, who was the No. 3 seed, might have given the Panthers a record 12 state-qualifiers. Smith broke his wrist during gym class last week.
“That was the difference (in the team standings at regionals),” Jeff LeBleu said. “We lost by 20 points to Paonia.”
Paonia qualified 12 for state.
Despite losing Smith at 171, Jeff LeBleu said he feels good about his team’s chances going into state.
“I think we’ll fare all right,” he said. “We have to beat ’em all anyway, if we’re gonna have a shot at it. I’m as happy with where we’re at as I’ve ever been.”
Still, as the Panthers prepare for this weekend’s state tournament, it will be with a heavy heart.
“I’ll just try to remember the better days,” coach Jeff LeBleu said.