Rifle advances eight wrestlers to state meet
MONTROSE – Eight to state.
It’s a number that pleased and surprised Rifle coach Jim Suminski as the Class 4A, Region 3 wrestling tournament concluded a two-day run at Lloyd McMillian Memorial Gymnasium at Montrose High School.
“We were hoping to have six (advance to state) the way we were seeded. To have…the guys come through like that, it was awesome,” Suminski said.
The feat’s especially awesome for the Bears after factoring in their opposition.
Six of the 10 schools entering last weekend’s regional tournament were among the top 10 in the 4A statewide.
Rifle, ranked No. 7 in the polls, proved they deserved the ranking.
They finished fourth in the team standings with 155.5 points, ahead of Palisade (152) and Delta (137), the Nos. 8 and 9 state-ranked teams.
Moffat County, Colorado’s No. 1 team in 4A, won the regional title with 270.5 points and qualified the most wrestlers for this weekend’s state tournament with 13.
Montrose followed with 174 points. Broomfield from the Metro Denver area was third.
“You could tell by the team points this was a tough region, probably the toughest one I’ve seen in a long time, ” Suminski said of the tournament.
To that effect, two of Rifle’s wrestlers battled their way to regional titles. Two others lost in the championships.
Three other Bear wrestlers had to fight their way back through the consolation bracket, then advance to the third-place match to secure one of the four state berths available in all 14 weights.
When it came to having a difficult tournament, Ryan Whittington was the lone exception.
The senior won the 171-pound championship in rapid fashion.
He needed just 2 minutes and 52 seconds to claim the title.
Whittington won all three of his matches on pins, including the championship match where he polished off Chad Kelley of Palisade in 1:24.
Earlier, he defeated Montezuma-Cortez’s Dallas Reed in 22 seconds. In the semifinals Whittington needed 56 seconds to pin Gavin Madsen of Montrose.
“I just went out and took it to them, then wrestled smart” Whittington said of his tournament strategy. “I wanted to come out and wrestle mistake-free and that’s what I did.”
Shannon Squires had a longer day than his teammate, but came away with the 215-pound title.
Advancing to the semifinals with a first-round bye, the Bear senior took a quick lead over Moffat County’s Trevor Slone, then withstood a late rally from the Bulldog for a 5-3 decision.
Having secured a berth in the championship match, Squires faced both a familiar and problematic opponent in Delta’s James Schaefer.
The big Panther was arguably the best upper-weight wrestler on the Western Slope, and had held an advantage over Squires with two lopsided wins to his credit earlier in the year.
On Saturday, both wrestled to a 0-0 stalemate until Schaefer scored an escape point midway in the second period.
It would be the only point the Delta wrestler would score until the waning seconds of the match.
In that span of time Squires dominated.
He took the lead with a spinning takedown with 59 seconds left in the second, and followed up the move with another two-point move at the close of the period.
Up 5-1, he scored a takedown and a reversal in the third period for a 9-3 decision.
“I knew I had it in the third period because he was dying,” explained Squires. “I’ve been busting my butt in practice to keep my stamina up, and I know when I get to the third period no one can hang with me.”
Squires also said the key to the win was defending Schaefer’s opening move.
“The last few matches I’ve wrestled against him, he’s always gotten a head throw on me, and thrown me on my back for five points. This time that didn’t happen.
I fought as hard as I could not to give up any takedowns, and then go through. That’s all it was,” he said.
Jesse Long’s second-place finish in the 145-pound division was the most impressive feat in the tournament by a Bear wrestler according to Suminski.
Long was the only unseeded wrestler among the five participates in the weight class.
“Jesse had to come up through consolations, and then he lost (the championship match) by one point – that’s something I’m going to remember for a long time,” Suminski said.
So will the Bear senior.
Long lost the championship match, 3-2, to Montrose’s Ben Tobler, the state’s No. 1 wrestler in 4A at the weight.
Justin Hampton advanced to the 125-pound championship before suffering a 16-1 technical fall decision to Moffat County’s Mark Hastings.
Anthony Alfini was pinned by Palisade’s Travis Bounds at the 4:55 mark of the 189-pound championship and Ryan Schoeppner rebounded from a semifinal loss to Montrose’s Dusty Vaughn for third place at 152 pounds.
Cody Ward and Nick Bosworth wrestled their way to the state meet by taking fourth place at 112 and 160 pounds respectively.
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