Wooten went from the edge to the top
After two consecutive years of falling one match short of medalist honors for the top six wrestlers in the state, Rifle’s Luke Wooten jumped to the top of the heap Saturday night in Denver.The 125-pound junior became the first Bears wrestler to win a 4A state title since Ryan Whittington took top honors at 171 pounds in 2002. While Wooten’s state-championship run wasn’t a total surprise to everyone, it was a bit unexpected.Wooten didn’t expect to be tops in the state when the season began; head coach Jim Suminski knew he had a solid wrestler, but Wooten was no lock for a state championship.
“I thought he’d be right in it” after finishing a match out of the medals the past two years, Suminski said Sunday. “He was right on the edge of breaking through, but it was a tough weight class this year. He just wrestled really well this year, kept getting better and everything came together for him.”Wooten said he realized he had a shot at a state title when he defeated one of the elite 125-pounders in the state at the Warrior Invitational in the middle of December.”When I wrestled J.R. Roman for the first time was when I figured I had a chance” for a state title, Wooten said.All Wooten needed was a chance at state, despite being on the more difficult side of the bracket.Wooten, ranked third in Class 4A by On the Mat, had to take down a pair of other wrestlers in the top four. He dispatched No. 2 Brad Neitenbach, 13-7, in the quarterfinals in what he described as his toughest match of the tournament. In the semis Wooten faced No. 4 Roman again and took him down, 7-3, to raise his record against the Pueblo South wrestler to 3-1 on the season.
“Just making it to the finals was my goal,” Wooten said. “I just made another goal once I got there.”It looked like Wooten caught a break when Skyline’s Kenny Seaver upset top-ranked Kellen Griswold of Widefield with a major decision, but Seaver proved to be a tough competitor before falling 3-2 to Wooten.Wooten had some welcome company in the Parade of Champions before the championship matches in 215-pounder Jeff Zimmerman.And, although Zimmerman fell short in the championship match against top-ranked Scott Garoutte of Moffat County, the senior’s run was an unlikely one, considering it was his first year of high school wrestling.
“I was surprised when he came out” for the team, Suminski said. “When he came into the room I said, ‘Wow, that really improves our team.'”Wooten, Zimmerman and sophomore Timmy Long – who captured fourth at 135 – led the charge for an eighth-place finish by the Bears.”(Long) is on track to be something special next year and the next year,” Suminski said.”We finished up happy, that’s for sure,” Wooten said. “We’re definitely happy with eighth.”As Wooten waited for his state title to sink in while celebrating with his family in Denver on Sunday, goals for next year already are beginning to take form.”I’ll try to be a returning state champion and try to be a two-timer if possible,” Wooten said. “That’s the goal for next year.”
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It was a close game, but after some thrilling back-and-forth plays the Rifle Bears were able to pull off the 28-20 victory over The Academy on May 1.