Denver Dallas Robinson can remember the pressure of having to fight back through consolation rounds, just a year after winning a state wrestling title at 112 pounds for the Hayden Tigers in 1988.
"It's extremely tough to come into the consolations, especially for the guys with their sights set so high," said Robinson, now an assistant coach for the Hayden High School wrestling team.
So, it was easy for Robinson to relate to what Hayden wrestlers Mitch Doolin and Coy Letlow were going through - entering the state tournament ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively - after both lost championship semifinals Friday and dropped into the consolation bracket for Saturday's competition at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
"It's a mental battle at this point," Robinson said. "Without a team title on the line, it's all about them - they have to ask, 'am I going to settle or meet my potential?'"
Both wrestlers came out looking for answers and energy Saturday and lost close consolation semifinal matches, but then battled back in their fifth-place bouts.
Coy Letlow drew Byers senior Steven Turecek - 27-1 entering the tourney - in the consolation semis. Turecek had sour memories of Letlow and the Tigers on his mind.
"I wanted some revenge for sure - since I've been in high school, (Hayden's) beaten us twice in the (football) playoffs," said Turecek, who played defensive end for the Bulldogs and last tangled with Letlow in their Nov. 10 football quarterfinal. "He's strong and I was a little weak because I'd wrestled 45 minutes before : I knew he was tough and I was going to have to give 100 percent to beat him."
Letlow and Turecek were locked in a tight 5-4 match until Turecek broke it open with a takedown to win, 9-6.
"All I was thinking was that I needed to win and take third," a despondent Letlow said. "When I had him on his back shoulder I shoulda stuck him, but got out of position and he rolled through."
Letlow responded by gutting out a 6-4 overtime win in the fifth-place match, against Wray's Paul Campfield.
With Soroco senior Dennis Morgan cheering on the sidelines - a little disappointed not to be meeting his friendly cross-county foe in the 189-pound finals - Letlow opened the overtime period with a crucial takedown on Campfield and walked off the mats, cracking his first smile of the tournament.
Mitch Doolin, after losing a close, one-point championship semifinal Friday, repeated with another maddeningly tight consolation semifinal with Rocky Ford's Matt Harmon.
"He's a tough kid," Rocky Ford coach Mike Jurney said. "I knew we were in for a barn-burner."
Harmon, the Meloneers' 145-pounder, scored a pair of key first-period points. Doolin managed to earn an escape point in the second, but as the final 30 seconds expired with Hayden coaches screaming that he needed to turn Harmon, Doolin fell, 2-1.
In Doolin's fifth-place match with Stratton's Byron Davis, Doolin came out fired up and threw Davis in a brutal headlock to break open a tied match for a 5-2 win.
"They're leaders," Robinson said of Doolin and Letlow, who will both have another chance at a title next year. "They've got good attitudes and set the tempo in our room all year."
Mader takes sixth
Steamboat Springs High School 140-pound wrestler Houston Mader had an odd dilemma in his Saturday consolation quarterfinal round: matching up across the mats with Moffat County friend-turned-foe Matt Kincheloe.
"It's weird," Mader said of facing his Moffat County opponent. "You don't want to do it, but you do what you've got to do."
Roughhouse shenanigans around the hotel turned serious on the mats Saturday, as Mader and Kincheloe's match was tied 1-1 with 1:30 remaining. Kincheloe jumped ahead, 4-3, and was poised for the win before Mader caught him, taking Kincheloe down and pinning him at 4:42.
Kincheloe said he was sure the two would joke about the match down the road, but for the time being, he would be cheering for Mader in his semifinal consolation.
Unfortunately, it was Mader who gave up the lead in the consolation semifinal to Alamosa's Kyle Holman. Mader was leading, 5-4, in the third period until Holman ended the match with a reversal and a pair of back points on Mader as time expired to win, 10-6.
In his third and final match of the day, Mader didn't have much energy left for Delta's Tyler Gieck, falling behind early and losing, 11-2, to finish the tournament as Class 4A's sixth-place 140-pound wrestler.
Gonzales finishes fourth
Some wrestlers getting ready for a state wrestling championship bout would want to get away from the action to clear their minds, Soroco's Dennis Morgan was in the front row Saturday morning. He was there to cheer on his fellow senior teammate, Levi Gonzales, who hit the mats for a consolation semifinal with Fowler's J.R. McDonald.
Gonzales jumped to a 6-4 lead, but McDonald tied things up. Then, holding a cramped side in apparent pain, Gonzales established and held onto a 9-8 lead to advance to the third-place consolation final.
Gonzales was paired with Grand Valley's James Drinkhouse, an opponent who beat him by a single point in regionals, forcing Gonzales to wrestle back in regional consolation for a shot at state qualification.
Gonzales cut Drinkhouse's lead to 4-2 with a third-period takedown, but Drinkhouse earned the pin with 32 seconds to go in the match.
"I was trying to remember his moves - last match he used a lot of legs, but he didn't even do that once," Gonzales said. "I wish I would've gotten that last match."
In a testament to the strength of the Western Region, Gonzales' only losses in his run to fourth-place in the competitive 125-pound class were to a pair of regional opponents.