Wrestling: Growing but inexperienced team sees few wins in the early going
December 21, 2017
In the wake of Tommy Stager’s tremendous individual success, the Niwot wrestling program has seen a surge in popularity. Since taking over the program three seasons ago, head coach Bobby Matthews has seen his team more than double in size, from just 12 wrestlers in 2015-16 to more than 30 wrestlers this year. Such growth is not only gratifying, Matthews said, but it’s also one of the key factors to future success.
“It’s huge in the process of building the program,” he explained. “More competition in the wrestling room means guys have to work hard just to make varsity. More partners in practice means more variety of styles and feel.”
At the same time, Stager’s departure for the Air Force Academy left a huge hole in the Cougar varsity lineup, and for the first time in years, there’s no younger Stager waiting in the wings to take up the slack. Replacing a state-champion, and all the team points he amassed on the way to that championship, will be no easy feat, cautioned Matthews.
“My expectations for this season are to build a strong core of guys to build for the future while maintaining a high level of expectation of excellence,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot of work to get to State and we have two to three guys that are showing well early in the season. It’s a long ways off and anything can happen between now and then.”
Matthews’ prediction has been spot on in the early weeks of the 2017-18 Niwot wrestling season. A strong showing from his core of returning upperclassmen hasn’t yet translated into many team wins, but there are certainly hopeful signs.
In their season-opening dual against Longmont on Dec. 7, the Cougars fell 45-29 despite fielding competitors in all but one of the weight classes. Returning wrestlers Brandon Barton and Nathan Hemenway, wrestling at 170 from 195 last year, picked up wins on the night, as did Luis Sosa (138) and Jose Lopez (285).
On Dec. 14, the Cougars made their home debut against Greeley Central, a perennial Northern League powerhouse. When these two team met in 2016, the Wildcats shut-out the Cougars 79-0, handing Stager one of his few losses on the year. This season, the Cougars fell 58-18, but Lopez and his younger brother Jovani (220) posted falls in both of their matches.
Matthews has been particularly impressed with his varsity veterans, who all made significant strides over the off-season.
“Brandon Barton has improved immensely,” said Matthews of his third-year varsity wrestler, who is competing in Stager’s former class, 145 pounds. “He attended multiple camps as well as Mile High Wrestling Club on a weekly basis. Jose is much improved, stronger and understands how to wrestle in his second season. Most of the guys put in work this past offseason.”
It’s been rougher sailing for Niwot in tournament competition so far this year. The Cougars made their annual December trip to Cheyenne for the Charlie Lake Tournament on Dec. 8-9. In the Dual Tournament on Friday, Niwot picked up team wins over Burns/Pine Bluff (48-15), WY and South, WY (48-31), but fell to Cheyenne East (74-6), Glenrock, WY (38-33), and Torrington (54-15). In the varsity tournament the following day, Niwot scored 13 team points, finishing 19th out of 21. At the Northern Colorado Christmas (NCCT) Old Chicago Tournament the following weekend, the Cougars scored 14 points.
“We are learning everyday and we have our ups and downs,” Matthews said. “Wrestling is such a grueling sport and the guys are not experienced in how to handle that, so we as coaches need to gauge that on a daily basis and keep them focused on the process, not the results.”
Despite the slow start, Matthews said he is eager to introduce wrestling to the next generation of athletes.
“I’m excited about taking guys with little-to-no experience and watching them fall in love with the sport and understand what it takes to compete with just you out there,” he said. “Many guys have come from football looking to do whatever it takes to make them improve for next season. I want to help them improve as young athletes. We are all in it together as an athletic department so we all want to see each team have success.”
Matthews is assisted this year by Todd Johnson, who graduated from Niwot in 1994. Johnson has had previous head coaching experience at Elizabeth H.S., and before that he coached in Florida and Oklahoma.
Niwot is off for the winter break, and back on the mat against Northridge on Jan. 4, and then Elizabeth on Jan 5. Niwot hosts the annual Gary Daum Invitational on Jan. 6.
(12/7) Longmont 45, Niwot 29
106 — Logan Novara pinned Max Pecherzewski; 113 — Gabriel Sedillos, LHS tech. fall over Connor Carlson, 16-0; 120 — Liam Wilson, LHS won by forfeit; 126 — John Nicholas, LHS pinned Poncho Rodriguez, 5:06; 132 — Gio Wilson, LHS pinned Matt Bitterman, 3:40; 138 — Luis Sosa dec. Andrew Wilson, LHS, 6-2; 145 — Brandon Barton major dec. Dylan Hassler, LHS, 11-3; 152 — Leif Neusken, LHS pinned Keith Hemmenway, 2:19; 160 — Brayden Engelking, LHS pinned Jonathan Colon, 0:30; 170 — Nathan Hemenway major dec. Aiden Tank, LHS, 12-4; 182 — Julian Molina won by forfeit; 195 — Jordan Gallegos, LHS pinned Hector Vela, 1:59; 220 — Jovani Lopez won by forfeit; 285 — Jose Lopez won by injury forfeit
(12/9) Charlie Lake Invitational
1. Poudre 186, 2. Cheyenne East 144.5, 3. Kelly Walsh 138.5, 4. Eaton 124.5, 5. Sidney 114, 6. Mountain View 108.5, 7. Glenrock 94.5, 8. Gering 86, 9. Douglas 59, 10. Fort Collins 48, 19. Niwot 13.0
(12/14) Greeley Central 58, Niwot 18
106 — Ricky Zavala, GCHS pinned Max Pecherzewski (1:18); 113 — Julian Vasquez, GCHS tech. pinned Andy Greve, 0:53; 120 — Isaac Luna, GCHS won by forfeit; 126 — Josh Nira, GCHS pinned Poncho Rodriguez, 1:07; 132 —Matt Bitterman won by forfeit; 138 — uncontested; 145 — Zeke Allirez, GCHS by tech. fall over Brandon Barton, 15-0 4:44; 152 — Tony Ulaszek, GCHS pinned David Koon 2:29; 160— Treyvaughn Martinez, GCHS pinned Jonathan Colon, 1:08; 170—Cody Solis, GCHS by tech. fall over Nathan Hemenway , 17-1 3:58; 182— Cooper Snyder, GCHS pinned Julian Molina, 3:14; 195 — Anthony Alirez, GCHS pinned Daniel Torres, 3:23; 220 — Jovani Lopez won pinned Michael Ramirez, GCHS 5:25; 285 — Jose Lopez pinned Alex Yeadon, GCHS, 4:50
(12/17) NCCT OLD CHICAGO TOURNAMENT, BUDWEISER EVENT CENTER
Team scores — 1. Windsor 230.5, 2. Pueblo East 214, 3. Poudre 207.5, 4. Brighton 195, 5. Castle View 162.5, 6. Mesa Ridge 140.5, 7. Greeley Central 140, 8. Eaton 129, 9. Kelly Walsh 124, 10. Discovery Canyon 119.5, 58. Niwot 14.0