PARACHUTE, Colorado - Michael Salazar had learned a thing or two in the past month. The Grand Valley High School senior put those lessons to good use on Saturday.
Wrestling in the 160-pound title match of the Class 3A Region 1 Tournament in the Grand Valley High gym, Salazar put those lessons to good use. He beat Buena Vista sophomore Michael Wilcoxson 9-5, holding on for victory at the very end, to headline the performances of Garfield County wrestlers at the tournament.
Salazar, it turns out, earned some first-hand knowledge last month that made a difference in his performance.
"I wrestled him in Leadville and I lost to him by a point," Salazar said. "He's pretty solid for as young as he is, and he tries to use a little too much muscle and get a little too technical. I think that's where I came in."
Finding that out helped Salazar come in first in his weight class, and he'll be one of six Grand Valley wrestlers who will go to the Class 3A State Championships at the Pepsi Center in Denver. Coal Ridge doubled its state showing from a year ago, as each of the Titans' four fourth-place finishers will go to state.
Buena Vista, which finished with three regional champions, won the team title with 186.5 points. Olathe was second with 171, with Salida (144), Hotchkiss (143) and Grand Valley (130) following.
Salazar made sure that Wilcoxson was the one trailing for much of the match. His takedown and three-point nearfall 1 minute, 15 seconds into the match staked him to a 5-0 lead, and an escape at the beginning of the second period put him up 6-0 headed into the final two minutes.
Wilcoxson started to rally, though, pulling within 7-5 with a pair of takedowns and an escape. Salazar was able to wriggle out from under his opponent, though, and his escape with eight seconds remaining gave him enough breathing room for the rest of the match.
"The last time we wrestled, he was really going hard the whole time," Salazar said. "I was just trying to get him to use that muscle into the third period because by then, he was tired. I used that against him because I have a huge stamina tank."
The Cardinals got a second-place finish from 106-pounder Cody Pfau, who lost the weight-class title match 13-0 to Cedaredge freshman Austin Todd. Bryan Hegwood nearly pulled off a rally of his own in the 170-pound title match, falling 4-3 to top-seeded Keegan Wentz of Buena Vista. Tucker Schultz, who was battling a stomach-flu illness in the week leading up to the tournament, finished third with a 7-5 win over Moffat County's Brayden Peterson at 138. George Stagg was third at 145 and William Hinkle was the runner-up at 152.
Pfau, the top seed at 106 coming into the tournament, will go to the state meet for the third time. Though she has won three weight-class tournament titles this season, she was trying to become the first female to win a regional title in Colorado, according to multiple high school coaches around the state.
"There were openings the whole match, but I didn't take them," said Pfau, whose record moved to 29-8 after the match. "He's really strong for a 106-pounder, and the main thing with him is he's overpowered me.
"We've wrestled four times," she continued. "He's won two (at the Warrior Classic and Saturday's regional) and I've won two. He's just won the important ones."
Lane Nelson of Coal Ridge finished fourth at 113 pounds after falling by pin to Buena Vista's Patrick Huffman. Christian Keith also finished fourth at 152, as did the Titans' Jerry Jurardo at 170 and Cole Zyweic at 220.
Coal Ridge sent two wrestlers to the state tournament in 2012. Each of this year's state qualifiers will make their first state-tournament appearance.