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Demons sending four wrestlers to Denver

Jeff Caspersen
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Jeff Caspersen Post IndependentGlenwood Springs sophomore Zak Stepniewski, top, wrestles Roosevelt's Dakota Swafford on Saturday in the 4A Region 1 tournament's third-place match at 113 pounds.
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GYPSUM, Colorado – Mike Mills won’t let the glare of the Pepsi Center spotlight get the best of him this time around.

The Glenwood Springs senior went 1-2 at the home of the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche, which serves as the site of the annual Colorado High School Activities Association’s state wrestling tournament.

“My first time out there last year was just a big blur,” he said. “The lights are going, there are 20 mats or whatever. My first match was murky. My head wasn’t in it. I think this year, it’ll be, ‘Stay focused. Don’t worry about the crowd. Just go wrestle.'”



Mills earned a return trip by wrestling to second place in the 4A Region 1 tournament’s 126-pound bracket.

After a first-round bye at the Friday-Saturday tourney, the senior defeated Durango’s Justin Nigo in the quarterfinals by pin (2 minutes, 52 seconds) and Delta’s Shane Anderson in the semifinals by a 9-2 decision. In the finals, Mills lost to Montezuma-Cortez’s Ryan Daves, 10-1.



Mills, now 37-2 on the season, is one of four Demons bound for Denver for state, which runs Thursday through Sunday.

“It’s awesome,” he said. “Since I’ve been here, we’ve never sent that many. This year, with four, it’s awesome. It’s all kind of how we expected it go. We’ve all been working hard.”

Zak Stepniewski missed out on Wisconsin’s state wrestling tournament last year. He won’t miss out on Colorado’s this year.

Wrestling to third place at 113 pounds at the 4A Region 1 tournament, the Glenwood Springs sophomore will be headed to the Front Range for next weekend’s state tournament.

Stepniewski picked up a first-round win over Evergreen’s Justin Tucker (pin, 47 seconds). He lost to Roosevelt’s Dakota Swafford, 2-0, in the quarterfinals, and then finished the tourney with wins over Mitchell’s Caleb McElfresh (pin, 1:34), Eagle Valley’s Marcus Medina (pin, 3:33) and Swafford (pin, 4:56).

Stepniewski, who hails from Sheboygan, Wis., is spending the 2011-12 school year in Colorado living with his aunt and uncle.

“I actually came out here for vacation and my aunt and uncle were like, ‘You can stay here for a year if you want,'” he said “I don’t know. I thought it’d be cool.”

So Stepniewski took a trip back to Wisconsin, picked up his stuff and returned to western Colorado to take up temporary residence in the mountains.

And Glenwood’s wrestling team is clearly benefitting from the young man’s decision, though the Demons will likely only have him for one season.

It’s been a solid campaign for Stepniewski, whose weekend wins put him at 32-7 for the season.

After narrowly missing out on a trip to state as a freshman in Wisconsin last year, he’s happy to be headed to Colorado’s version in 2012.

Brian Ochoa isn’t the biggest of heavyweights. He often gives up 10s of pounds to his opponents.

But the Glenwood Springs senior packs plenty of muscle, which he used to nail down third place in the 4A Region 1 tournament’s heavyweight bracket.

“I’m actually supposed to be down a weight,” Ochoa relayed. “I went up for more of a competition factor.”

Being small for a heavyweight has its advantages … and disadvantages.

“Other heavyweights are bigger than I am,” said Ochoa, citing the obvious disadvantage. “The advantages are that I’m quicker than most guys. I’m lighter, better on my feet. That really helps me a lot. And I’m stronger than most 220-pounders are supposed to be.”

Ochoa defeated Moffat County’s Bob Meyers in the first round, pinning him in 25 seconds. He followed with a pin of Palisade’s Jory Gardner in 1:15 and a semifinal loss to Conifer’s Don Fuller (pin, 2:39). Ochoa then pinned Delta’s Marcus Garcia (59 seconds) and Valor Christian’s Corey Adcock (2:43) to finish off a 4-1 weekend.

The Glenwood senior will take a 26-6 record to Denver.

Miguel Vega learned a thing or two from his first trip to the state tournament last year.

With a third-place regional finish at 106 pounds, he’ll get a second chance to compete under the bright lights at the Pepsi Center.

What’s the biggest thing he took from last year’s state experience?

“Confidence,” said the Glenwood Springs senior, who went 1-2 at state last February. “You’ve just got to go out there. You’ve made weight already. You might as well go out and go hard.”

Vega pieced together a 4-1 record in Gypsum.

After a first-round bye, he defeated Palisade’s Randen Espinoza in the quarterfinals (pin, 2:35) and lost to Eagle Valley’s Damien Atencio (decision, 7-5, overtime).

He rebounded by defeating Roosevelt’s Dustin Hayden (pin, 1:27) and Summit’s Nick Wittrock (major decision, 16-4).

Vega, now 19-3 on the season, will have three teammates with him in Denver, which left the scrappy senior beaming with pride.

“I’m pretty proud of us all right now,” he said. “I’m proud of the whole team.”

Also placing for the Demons at the weekend’s regional tournament were Arturo De La Cruz (138 pounds) and Erick Madrid (182).

Both placed sixth, rounding out a solid weekend for the Demons. The top four regional finishers in each weight class earned state berths.

“We brought nine and six placed – that’s pretty good,” Glenwood coach Guy Brickell said. “We feel really good about that.”

jcaspersen@postindependent.com


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