Rifle braced for state meet | PostIndependent.com

Rifle braced for state meet

Jeff Caspersen
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Chad Spangler Special to the Post IndependentRifle junior Larry Schmueser wrestles at the 4A Western Regional at Mullen High School in Denver last weekend.

DENVER, Colorado – Late in the season, there were times Rifle wrestling coach John Wisniewski doubted his Bears would have much in the way of representation at the state tournament.

Last weekend’s 4A Western Regional quashed the coach’s fears.

With senior James Martinez leading the way with an outright dominant performance at Mullen High School, the Bears qualified six for the state tournament, which kicks off tonight at the Pepsi Center in Denver.

The 140-pounder will be joined by state tournament veterans Keaton Deere (119 pounds) and Larry Schmueser (130) and first-timers Matt Barrett (152), Tyler Davis (171) and Nick Mellon (285).

“I’m ecstatic,” Wisniewski said. “It was kind of during midseason, toward the last of the season, we wrestled some duals and we weren’t faring too well. It was looking kind of dismal. I was thinking we’d be lucky to qualify one or two for state. Then we had the regional tournament.

“I don’t know how, but they came out of their shell. Getting another trip back over the mountain was huge for these kids. The seniors definitely didn’t want to end their season last weekend. They pulled through and got it done.”

Martinez is very much a contender for a state title. He’s 34-2 and coming off his first regional title. He finished third in the 135-pound weight class at state last February and wants nothing more than to stand atop the podium after Saturday night’s finals.

“Oh yeah,” he said after regionals. “That’s my main goal. I’ve wrestled 14 years for it. I’m just going to go out there and go for it, leave nothing left. It’s my senior year.”

Schmueser, a junior, just wants to make it to the podium. This will be his third trip to state.

“He was talking about really wanting to be on that podium,” Wisniewski said. “I know, deep down inside, he wants that state championship.”

Deere, also a junior, is back for a second straight state appearance. The 119-pounder, who owns a 15-13 record, has a knack for stepping up his game late in the season.

“I think the last two years he went into the regional tournament with a sub-.500 record,” Wisniewski said. “He finds a way to get it done. I don’t know.”

Deere battled a knee injury this season that affected his win-loss record. It appears he’s healing up at just the right time.

All three Rifle first-timers are seniors.

Barrett’s third-place regional performance caught his coach’s eye.

“He probably wrestled one of the best tournaments in his whole wrestling career,” Wisniewski said. “He had three outstanding matches.”

Davis’ regional performance was no less impressive.

He missed out on regionals the last two years due to injury before finally getting his chance to shine at Mullen. He finished fourth in his weight class.

“He was looking really good last year and then he popped his ribs out,” Wisniewski said. “The same thing happened this year, but about one week earlier. He’s been quite the trooper. I know it’s painful. We told him, ‘It’s your senior year. You’ve got to go out there and work through the pain and get through it.'”

Mellon is another with a compelling story. Coaches talked him into wrestling this season. He had given the sport only a brief try as a freshman.

The heavyweight’s done nothing but impress since. He finished fourth at regionals and is 20-12 entering the state meet.

With six Bears bound for Denver, Rifle certainly has a chance to make some noise.

A solid blend of veterans and first-timers could spell an impressive run for a program that’s produced state champions in four of the past five seasons.

So what advice have Rifle’s state vets offered up to the team’s first-timers?

“We talked about it a little bit,” Wisniewski said. “We talked about what to expect at the state tournament for the first-timers. What advice would the other guys give, as veterans of state? It’s to expect the unexpected. You have to wrestle hard and have to be ready to go for three periods. You have to.”


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