Steamboat Springs Hayden High School wrestling coach Ty Zabel says the real season has finally arrived.
The Tigers circled last weekend's West Grand tournament as an opportunity to begin testing themselves against serious statewide competition. The team finally was healthy, and six Tigers advanced through the bracketed ranks and finished in the top three of a tournament that featured nearly 20 teams from every corner of the state as well as Wyoming. The team's overall success helped Hayden - the top finisher among Routt County's three high schools - to a third-place finish behind Rangely and Norwood.
"All the boys wrestled well, so it was a good deal," Zabel said. "We don't go again until Jan. 4 (at Paonia), so we'll be practicing all week - hard, hard, hard, with conditioning, getting in shape, practicing moves."
Mitchell VeDepo won the 130-pound class with a win in the finals against Norwood's Dustin Winter. Hayden had three wrestlers - Mitch Doolin (145 pounds), Jake Magee (152) and Coy Letlow (189) win their way through three rounds to reach the finals, but each fell just short and earned runner-up spots. Zed Wheelock (125) and Treyben Letlow (171) took third.
Soroco had two athletes earn tournament titles - Justin Iacovetto and Levi Gonzales. After breezing through the first rounds, Iacovetto met and defeated Bennett's Kenny Porter - currently the state's No. 2-ranked Class 3A 112-pound wrestler - in a final match that Soroco coach Jay Whaley said was not as close as the 8-7 decision indicated.
Gonzales impressed Whaley by first defeating Wheelock in a quadruple overtime first-round match and then going on to defeat Norwood's Seth Gabardi in a final match that also went to an overtime period.
The bad news for Soroco was the shoulder injury suffered by senior Dennis Morgan in the 189-pound semifinals. The Soroco senior (who entered the tournament ranked No. 2 in Class 2A) was up 7-0 on his Norwood opponent when his shoulder separated, Whaley said. After the shoulder spontaneously reduced back into its socket, Morgan finished the match but could not secure the win with the injury.
"He has got to be the toughest kid in the state," Whaley said of Morgan. "He should be ready by regionals and state."
Steamboat Springs' Derek Morris continued his unbeaten streak, pinning through the first two rounds en route to a 6-1 victory against Middle Park's Shelby Garrett in the 135-pound class finals.
Houston Mader, however, saw his undefeated streak come to an end with a close loss in the 140-pound semifinals to Middle Park's Joe Visconti. Up 3-2 with two seconds left in the match, Mader gave up two crucial takedown points. Mader went on to take third place.
"This, in the long run, could be a benefit," Steamboat wrestling head coach Sean McCarthy said. "It could either haunt him or drive him to never let up again."
Steamboat returns to the mats at Eagle Valley on Jan. 5.