Steamboat Springs One year ago, Peyton's Lee Fairbanks ended Kelly Bruchez's season.
But in two days, the Hayden wrestler might get a second chance at Fairbanks and extend his season extend it all the way to the state tournament championship round.
Fairbanks is one of the familiar faces in Bruchez's 152-pound weight class and Bruchez is one of 14 area wrestlers heading to the Pepsi Center.
Thursday is the start of the three-day tournament that brings together the top high school wrestlers in the state from Class 2A to 5A schools. Eight Hayden wrestlers and five Soroco wrestlers will step out on the mats at the Pepsi Center for the 2A tournament. Will Zimmerer will be the lone wrestler representing Steamboat Springs in the 4A competition. The state tournament in Denver begins at 3 p.m. Thursday and will continue through Saturday night's championship round.
With a 25-3 record, Bruchez is one of Routt County's best chances at seeing a podium finish this weekend. He is joined by Tigers Kevin Miller and Tanner Copeland and Ram Josh Iacovetto: all wrestlers who were first-place finishers at the regional tournament last weekend.
Iacovetto will be the area wrestler returning to the tournament with the best standing. He finished third last year at 103 pounds after beating Calhan's Tony Gallegos, 4-2.
Although an injury had Iacovetto out of commission until the beginning of January, coach Doug Gates said his 103-pounder is looking for another top finish.
Iacovetto could face some top wrestlers in the bottom half of the bracket like Wiggins' Jacob Beydler and Center's A.J. Martinez.
Gates said most of the wrestlers Iacovetto went up against last year have moved up to the 112-pound division.
Bruchez and Miller both finished in the quarterfinals of last year's tournament but are looking to do more in 2002.
"It's the last chance for us seniors. It's now or never," 171-pounder Miller said.
Miller, who is one of five Tigers seniors traveling to Denver, will have tough competition. If Miller defeats Fowler's Luke Baldwin Thursday, he could face Sargent's Chance Parsons, the third-ranked wrestler in the state.
Top-ranked 171-pound wrestler Torben Walters also stands in the bottom bracket with Miller. Although just a freshman, Walters is a transfer from Ohio and a National Freestyle Champion, Miller said.
Walters is also a major threat to last year's state champion, Wiggins' Daniel Neal, who will start the tournament in the upper bracket. Neal defeated the Tigers' Joel Wixson who graduated last year for the 171-pound title. Bruchez will see some familiar faces from last year's state tournament, including Fairbanks, who beat him 5-1 in the quarterfinals. If both Bruchez and Fairbanks win their preliminary matches Thursday, they will square off in the second round Friday.
But Fairbanks, 34-6, is the toughest competitor in Bruchez's bottom bracket. The upper bracket has talented wrestlers like Springfield's Brian Bohlander, who is 29-1 for the season, and Trevor Kerr, who beat Bruchez 10-6 in the second round of the state tournament last year.
Copeland is also looking to make waves for the Tigers. The 215-pounder has a stiff upper bracket to combat with top-ranked Eddie Borgen from Peyton and Fleming's Jason Stone. But coming into the tournament, Copeland is focused on his first match against South Park's James Brennan.
"I'm taking it one match at a time," said Copeland, who was pinned in the preliminaries last year.
Steamboat's Zimmerer did not fare quite as well as Bruchez in the bracket setup. In his first match of the tournament, the heavyweight wrestler will go up against the No. 1 wrestler in the state, Liberty's Scott Goodrich. While Goodrich with a 30-2 record stands at the top of the weight class, there is other tough competition in Harris' Dominic Williams and Broomfield's Vinny Pallone, both who have beaten Zimmerer once before.
"(Zimmerer) has got a tough road to hoe," Sailors coach Jay Muhme said. "But if Will goes out there and beats the No. 1 guy, then it's easier going to the end."
Also heading to state are Rams 130-pounder Whittier Gates and Tigers 160-pounder Riley Whiteman, second-place at regionals. Rounding out the state-bound contingent for Hayden is Jake Booco (119 pounds), Jake Doolin (125 pounds), Clayton Neumiller (189 pounds) and Alan Stark (heavyweight). Soroco will also take 112-pounder Matt Iacovetto, 135-pounder Brandon Ager and 152-pounder Tyson Gilleland.