Hayden There have been close ones, and now Treyben Letlow can laugh thinking about them.
The Hayden senior has won 67 matches in a row. He hopes to make it 68 today as he and seven other wrestlers from Routt County high schools begin competition in the Class 2A state wrestling tournament in Denver.
“I think I’ve been to overtime twice,” he said. “I’ve won some by one point, too.”
There have been close ones, but Letlow has been perfect for nearly two years. If all goes as the Tigers’ 215-pound wrestling machine has planned, he’ll make that 71 consecutive wins and back-to-back state championships, and he’ll go down as one of the best wrestlers to don the Hayden orange.
He’ll get his chance when the tournament’s preliminary rounds begin at 3 p.m. today at Denver’s Pepsi Center.
Eyeing the wall
Hayden has a proud wrestling tradition, one that every Tiger wrestler has to pass through even before a single practice. The programs’ history is documented on wooden planks displayed across the gymnasium wall above the entrance to the wrestling room, all the state champions and state placers listed.
Randy LeBlanc and Brad Koppenhafer were state champions three times over.
LeBlanc dominated mid-weights, winning in 1970, 1972 and 1973. Koppenhafer didn’t lose more than two matches a year while winning his titles from 1989 to 1991.
There have been other great performers, including seven two-time title winners. Ty Camilletti, who coaches this year’s team, won in 1996 and 1997. He pointed to two-time champ Arlis Fredrickson, victorious in 1995 and 1996, as perhaps the best he ever saw.
“A lot of those two-timers could have been three-timers,” Camilletti said. “A lot of guys that won one easily could have had two. Hayden’s had a lot of great wrestlers.”
Letlow joined 14 other Tigers with one championship when he won last year.
There’s no great Hayden wrestling record book, no way to know where Letlow’s 67 straight ranks. Still, few who have been around the program long can remember anything quite like Treyben Letlow.
“Treyben can be right up there,” former coach John Svoboda said.
His own style
Letlow’s not as good as he is because he’s a brilliant tactician, because he’s incredibly strong or because he has an encyclopedic knowledge of wrestling moves.
Instead, he’s a little of all those things.
“He’s real patient,” said Svoboda, who coached the program for a decade and has helped ever since. “He doesn’t force anything, and he takes advantage of what his opponents give him.”
Letlow has wrestled at 215 pounds for three years. He’s often been underweight for the classification — severely so during his sophomore season, when he finished third at state — but has always been among the tallest. In a class that often attracts more lumbering monsters than wrestling technicians, that 6-foot-5 frame has been decisive.
“He’s definitely strong, but being 6-5 really creates a lot of leverage for him, which adds to his strength” Camilletti said. “He knows how to use that when he’s on the mat. He’s wrestled bigger kids with more muscle, but he beats them.”
Finishing it off
Letlow has lost so few times in high school — he enters today’s match with a 122-18 record — he can remember most of the mistakes he’s made.
He remembers the last match he lost, a 215-pound state semifinal against Isaiah Churchwell of Burlington, who entered 32-2 and appeared chiseled from Rocky Mountain granite.
“He was huge,” said Letlow, who lost 4-2. “He was a lot bigger than me, and I couldn’t quite handle his size. … I was just too young. I didn’t have enough experience to take him.”
He won via pin in his four other matches that weekend.
There were scares last year. After advancing undefeated through the regular season, Letlow was in trouble late in the state semifinal match. Wray’s Zach Jackson had Hayden’s star on his back. Letlow managed to escape and won, 7-6.
Jackson, victim No. 37, became No. 61 as well this month in a tournament in Eaton. It took Letlow overtime to sew up that win.
There are certainly legitimate challenges. Letlow opens the tournament against Justin Lenox, an Eads sophomore who is 30-15 on the season, and faces a bracket with five wrestlers with four or fewer losses.
Disaster could be looming.
But with another state championship four wins away, so could glory.
“I want to be known as one of the best athletes who’s ever come through Hayden,” Letlow said. “That’s what I work for.”
Soroco wrestlers' state pairings
■ 119 pounds
Soroco sophomore Dillon Koler (13-20) vs. Baca County sophomore Clay Seeman (34-5)
How Koler got here: Koler got the final spot for state by finishing fourth at regionals. It’s the first state tournament for a wrestler who’s made significant strides since winning one match last year.
Soroco coach Jay Whaley on Koler: “I am tickled pink to see how good Dillon did. Coming into the season, he had only one (high school) win in his life. He’s hard to score on. He’s learned (that) if you don’t give up points you start to win.”
■ 140 pounds
Soroco sophomore Josh Baker (28-8) vs. Crowley County senior T.J. Hernandez (27-11)
How Baker got here: Baker finished third in the region and has one of the tougher state brackets in Class 2A. With three years of wrestling experience, Baker has proven a tough match this season.
Whaley on Koler: “Josh is tough. He just has a big heart and won’t give up. He keeps moving no matter if he’s on bottom or top. That excels him through all of his matches.”
■ 145 pounds
Soroco junior Tristan Palyo (15-9) vs. Merino Junior David Michel (28-8)
How Baker got here: Palyo came on late in the season and finished second in his region. His versatility on the mat should make him one of the toughest matchups in the 145-pound bracket.
Whaley on Baker: “At times he’s been an offensive machine but at times, he takes advantage of the mistakes you make. I’m excited about his matchups and bracket. I think it’s a doable thing that we can move through that bracket.”
Hayden wrestlers' state pairings
■ 119 pounds
Hayden freshman Journey Vreeman (16-18) vs. Rocky Ford freshman Adam Baca (32-10)
How Vreeman got here: Vreeman bounced from 125 to 119 pounds all year, and he filled in for an injured T-Lane Mazzola at regionals, where he finished third.
Hayden coach Ty Camilletti on Vreeman: “The impressive thing about Journey was coming out of junior high he wasn’t a dominant wrestler. He has talent but he just wasn’t putting it together. The unusual thing is he went from an average junior high wrestler to a talented high school wrestler. Midway through the season, he started adjusting to high school wrestling.”
■ 130 pounds
Hayden junior Chad Terry (16-2) vs. Center junior Diego Pons (9-6)
How Terry got here: Terry won his region despite battling a shoulder injury all season. He was a runner-up at state his freshman year and lost in the semifinals last year. He very well could be one of four Hayden wrestlers to place all four years at state.
Camilletti on Terry: “It would not shock me at all if Chad won state. The semifinals and finals are tough and sometimes the quarterfinals are tough. But I like our chances even with the (shoulder) injury.”
■ 135 pounds
Hayden senior Scott Armbruster (17-17) vs. Burlington senior Colin Eberhart (17-7)
How Armbruster got here: Armbruster is making his fourth trip to the state tournament. His six losses at previous state tournaments have each been by three or fewer points.
Camilletti on Armbruster: “He has showed up every night and did what he was told. This year, we’re hoping to come home with a medal. He’s got a great chance to come home with a medal his senior year.”
■ 171 pounds
Hayden sophomore Ryan Domson (29-10) vs. Baca County sophomore Terrell Stafford (21-8)
How Domson got here: Domson finished second in his region and is making his first trip to the state tournament. He had an impressive freshman season and followed it up with an even more dominant sophomore season.
Camilletti on Domson: “Ryan is going to be the next big thing here at Hayden in wrestling and football. It wouldn’t shock me if Ryan came home with a medal. He’s good enough (that) he could win it. He’ll need to pull off a couple upsets, but he’s got the talent.”
■ 215 pounds
Hayden senior Treyben Letlow (29-0) vs. Eads sophomore Justin Lenox (30-15)
How Letlow got here: He won his region, is the reigning state champion and has won 69 straight matches.
Camilletti on Letlow: “He’s strong. He’s good. He’s smart and he’s confident. He wants to keep that undefeated match streak alive and be another Hayden two-time state champion. He wants to wrestle his last match Saturday and we’ve talked about how good it feels to win your last match.”