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Niwot Wrestling Has Two Make State Tournament


February 17, 2016

All of the work, all of the effort, every dual, every tournament, every practice, all led to this moment for the Niwot High School wrestling team - the opportunity to show out in the regional tournament and make the state championship.

The Cougars brought eight athletes to compete in the regionals, and six of the eight made it at least to the quarterfinals of the consolation round with a chance to continue their season at the Pepsi Center.

Those six were sophomores Alex Gazdik and Nathan Hemenway, juniors Tommy Stager and Dylan Bonge, and seniors Pranil Lal and Aaron Nicoll.

All six of them did very well to make it as far as they did in the tournament, but only two of them were able to push through the barrier and make it to the state tournament.

Stager won first place in regionals and will enter as one of the top-seeded athletes in the 132-pound weight class, while Gazdik was able to pull out fourth place in the 126-pound weight class, and has a chance to make some noise at the Pepsi Center.

Niwot Head Coach Bobby Matthews said he is proud of the way all of his athletes competed in the two days of the regional tournament.

For Stager, the goal was always making it to the state championship as a regional tournament winner. Since the first match he wrestled this season he has been on an upward trajectory that has been hard to stop. He finished with 43 total wins on the season but does not plan on stopping his winning any time soon.

“Tommy is doing his job,” Matthews said of his star junior. “I’m proud of the way he fought through adversity this year. It’s good to see the things we worked on early in the season pay dividends.”

When asked who had a shot at making the state tournament two weeks ago, Matthews said that Gazdik would be a dark horse at 126. He proved his coach right by winning his first two matches and making it to the semi-finals of the championship round, before getting eliminated by the defending state champion.

He pulled it back together to win in the semi-final match of the consolation round but was unable to win in the final consolation round match, giving him fourth place for the tournament which was still good enough to make it to state.

“The bracket worked really well for [Gazdik]” Matthews said of his other state qualifier. “He did his job, I thought he started off well against the defending state champion but he wasn’t quite able to pull off the upset.”

Besides Stager and Gazdik, the other athlete Matthews thought had a good shot at making the state tournament was Nicoll. Even though he made it to the quarterfinal round of the consolation bracket, Nicoll actually didn’t win a match in the tournament. Matthews said even though his tournament ended up in disappointment, Nicoll should be proud of the season he had.

“He had the toughest draw of the tournament - he didn’t match up well against either of the kids he went against,” Matthews said of his senior captain. “I’m proud of the effort from [Nicoll], he had his first winning season of his career. It’s sad because he works so hard and he fought through a severe labrum tear. It shows his toughness and I am proud of him for that.”

The other senior who made it to the quarterfinal round of the consolation bracket was Lal. He got down early in his quarterfinal match but ended up making up ground and had a chance to pull even with his opponent at the end, but he just didn’t have enough to get the two points he needed.

“I wish [Lal] was a little younger - he is a physical specimen and he has so much potential,” Matthews said. “He earned the third captain’s spot during the year, he worked hard and was always there in practice.”

Junior Bonge actually won his quarterfinal match in the consolation tournament but was unable to get the win in the semi-final match or in the fifth place match later in the day. He ended up getting sixth place for the tournament, but given the struggles he had gone through during the year that was a great way to finish his season.

“[Bonge] has all the ability he needs,” Matthews said. “He limped in with a losing record coming into regionals. He went from having an injury early in the season and not really being consistent, to placing in regionals. It just shows that your record means nothing coming into this.”

Finally, sophomore Hemenway was actually the biggest surprise of the tournament for Matthews. He did not have very many wins coming in but was able to put it all together in the tournament and get a win before losing in the quarterfinals.

“[Hemenway] actually surprised us, he really hasn’t had a lot of success,” Matthews said. “Last year he only had one win in a JV tournament, and this year he had five or six varsity wins. His future looks bright and he is doing a great job changing his body to fit his wrestling style.”

Gazdik and Stager have a week to prepare before facing the rigors of the state tournament. The first round starts on Thursday, Feb. 18 at 7:15 p.m.


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