Craig Steamboat Springs High School wrestler Houston Mader has seen the best. Now, the senior is out to prove he is the best.
Mader qualified for the state tournament Saturday at the regional wrestling tournament in Moffat County, finishing second at 140 pounds.
Mader beat Golden's Wes Okonbak, 6-2, in the semifinals before falling 4-2 in the finals to Montezuma-Cortez's Justin Samora.
Samora, 35-1 this year, currently is ranked the top wrestler in the 4A, 140-pound division. He's pinned more than 90 percent of his opponents this year.
"I'm going to go in (to state) twice as hard and twice as focused," Mader said. "I have to be or I'll get beat again. I'm going to stay focused all week and use this to my advantage."
In the first match of the day against Okonbak, Mader dominated the whole way. Mader went up 4-0 through the first two periods on two takedowns. Mader allowed Okonbak to escape to begin the third period, making the score 4-1, before he took the legs again to go up 6-1.
The win set up the showdown with Samora, who breezed through his portion of the tournament, pinning two opponents in the first period and winning in the semifinals, 19-3.
Samora opened up the match with a takedown and a 2-0 lead. In the second, Mader appeared to have a throw, but a slip cost him points.
"I had a throw on him and it was good and set up perfect when he was pushing into me," Mader said. "It just slipped off wrong and I didn't finish off with it."
Samora went up 4-0 at the end of the second period, before Mader scored a penalty point because the Montezuma-Cortez wrestler earned his third caution for starting too soon.
Mader found himself on the bottom for most of the third period, before earning an escape point with two seconds remaining.
"A 4-2 match. We'd like to have won, but it gives you a gauge of what we can expect next week," Steamboat coach Sean McCarthy said. "We'll go back to the drawing board and see if we can make up those two points the next time he sees him."
McCarthy said there are five wrestlers - including Mader - in the 140-pound class who all have a chance to win the state tournament.
Although Mader was disappointed with the loss, he said it will help him when he starts his quest for a state title Thursday in Denver.
"No more losses," Mader said. "There can't be."
The state tournament runs through Saturday at the Pepsi Center. The Colorado High School Activities Association will release the brackets today and post them on the Web at www.chsaa.org.