Rifle feels ready for Class 3A regional
RIFLE — John Wisniewski was so excited about the way the Class 3A Region 4 Tournament seedings turned out for his Rifle High School wrestling team that he barely knew how to break the news.
“I’m real excited to tell them, but I’m so not excited to tell them,” the 10th-year coach of the Bears said on his way to practice on Thursday.
For sure, the Bears wound up in what is a seemingly great position for when the regional tournament begins today at Montrose High School. Of the nine wrestlers that Rifle will put in the tournament bracket, five of those wrestlers are seeded in the top four of their respective weight classes.
That’s a good sign for the Bears, who will join Coal Ridge and Grand Valley as the Garfield County teams that will be wrestling for the four spots each weight class gives to the Class 3A State Championships next week at the Pepsi Center in Denver. And the way Wisniewski sees it, his kids have as good of a chance as anyone’s to make it there.
“I’m excited,” the coach said. “I think that our guys have a very good opportunity to do well.”
Among those with the opportunity is Rifle senior David Fugita, who earned the tournament’s top seed at 138 pounds with a 27-7 record. Earning a second seed was senior Jose Prado (29-5) at heavyweight, with 160-pounder Zach Wisniewski (17-14) earning a fourth seed, sophomore Drake Montgomery (10-6) earning a fourth seed at 145, with sophomore 113-pounder Isaiah Garcia (19-8) seeded third in his weight class. Another Rifle wrestler, senior Alex Rivas (26-9), was given a fifth seed at 170 pounds.
The top four finishers in each weight class earn state-tournament berths. First-round matches in the tournament take place at noon today, with consolation matches taking place immediately afterward. Placing matches take place at 1 p.m. Saturday, with tournament title matches beginning at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
Rifle faced a tough overall schedule this season, which included the traditionally tough Warrior Classic in Grand Junction, a dual tournament this past weekend at Meeker (Class 2A’s second-ranked team), a dual tournament in Green River, Wyoming, and multiple matchups against Delta, the fourth-ranked team in Class 3A. Wisniewski said that tough schedule might be part of why many of Rifle’s wrestlers are seeded this high, but he also hopes his team can come to the tournament mentally prepared.
“We need to wrestle everyone one by one,” he said. “That’s what can be scary about these because kids look at the brackets and say things like, ‘If I beat this guy, then I’ll wrestle this guy and I could wind up wrestling this guy.’ Before you know it, they’re already wrestling two people [in their minds] before they step on the mat. That’s why we have to get them in the right mindset before they get out there.”
Rifle isn’t the only Garfield County wrestling team who nabbed some high seeds.
Grand Valley will have a pair of wrestlers who nabbed top-four seeds in their weight class. One of them was Johnathan Downing (23-8), a sophomore 195-pounder and state qualifier from a year ago who earned a fourth seed in his weight class. Also seeded fourth from Grand Valley is sophomore Evan Hoff, who brings a 19-10 record into the 220-pound weight class.
In all, the Cardinals will have nine wrestlers in the regional — and the coaches haven’t even shown them the brackets yet. Nor do they plan to.
“Right now, we haven’t even made weight for the regional tournament yet,” first-year Cardinals coach Ryan Frink said. “We’d be thrilled to have some state qualifiers, but our main focus is the wrestlers who are in front of us and the tournament that’s in front of us.”
Coal Ridge will be paced by Lane Nelson (21-17), who began the season as a 132-pounder but dropped down to 126, where he’ll be seeded sixth. Justin Goodsell (15-11, 132), Nick Carbone (17-12, 182) and Rudy Devora (17-15, heavyweight) also come into the tournament with winning records. All total, the Titans have nine wrestlers in the tournament.
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