Niwot hosts annual Gary Daum Tournament
January 11, 2019
The wins were few and far between for the Niwot wrestling team in the early weeks of the 2018-19 season, but head coach Bobby Matthews sounded an optimistic tone following his team’s performance in the first weekend of the new year. Between Friday night’s dual against Longmont and Saturday’s annual Gary Daum Invitational, seven of his wrestlers posted a match win, which he said is one of several promising signs that the team is starting to turn around.
“I’m definitely feeling much better than I did in December about the team,” he said. “I thought overall, we started to compete better. We’re going deeper into matches, even in a loss. Early in the year, we were getting pinned in the first period. You can’t really get better, if you’re not wrestling full matches.”
The busy weekend started on a positive note against the Trojans at home on Friday night, even if the Cougars weren’t able to get the team win. Five Niwot wrestlers won their competitive matches, including junior Long Pham (170), who pinned his opponent at 3:06 for his first-ever varsity victory. Juniors Matt Bitterman (132), Keith Hennenway (160), Daniel Torres (195), and Jovani Lopez (285) also picked up wins on the night, but the Cougars fell to the Trojans 45-27.
The team was back in the gym early on Saturday, Jan. 5, getting ready for a long day hosting and competing in the seventh annual Gary Daum Invitational, named for the longtime Niwot coach who led the program from 1977 to 2005. This year, the event grew to 19 teams and nearly 200 wrestlers, despite competition with some marquis national-level events.
“We’ve been trying to build it over the last couple of years into a very tough tournament, opening it up to teams that weren’t traditionally here, like Fort Morgan, Elizabeth and Greeley West,” Matthews said. “I was very, very pleased with the quality of competition.”
The day went well for Matthews the tournament host, but less so for Matthews the coach. Unable to capitalize on their home-gym advantage, Niwot scored just 27.0 points on the day, finishing in 17th place.
Still, Matthews said he saw progress even in the losses. “Mistakes from inexperience cost them some matches, but overall, I feel like they were putting things together. Hopefully we accelerate that learning process and they start being more reactionary and able to wrestle a full-match without thinking.”
Among the bright spots on the day was heavyweight Lopez, who finished on the podium for the second time this season, and was 4-1 for the weekend. His season record improved to 9-5. Back in the more familiar 195-lb class, Torres also picked up another win, his fifth, and Matthews sees good things ahead for the junior. “He’s in really great shape and eating really healthy, and it’s helping him. His energy levels are better.”
Pham notched his second pin in as many days in his first round consolation match, much to the delight of Matthews and his second-year assistant Todd Johnson. Freshman Easten Leatherwood also picked up a win, which Matthews attributed to his growing experience.
“He’s learning to control his emotions,” Matthews said. “The kid hates to lose, but sometimes hating to lose is costing him matches, because he’s tries to do something he’s not capable of and puts himself in a bad position. He’s learning to wrestle within himself, and I saw that even from Friday to Saturday.”
Juniors Hemmenway and Max Percherzewski (113) also posted wins on the day.
Matthews knows there’s still a long season ahead, but he now sees plenty of reasons to be positive after the slow start. A number of injured wrestlers will be returning to the lineup in the coming days, among them junior Julian Molina, who was thought to be out for the season with a torn meniscus. Upstarts Cooper Ackerman (sophomore) and Satchel Hart (freshman) will also be back with the Cougars, which does more than just fill holes in the roster.
“One of the advantages of having guys back and healthy is more practice partners and more competition in practice, which pushes guys,” Matthews said. “Obviously, they’re going to be way behind as far as conditioning, so it’s really going to take them a bit of time to really push that guy in front of them for a varsity spot.”
Of course, nothing succeeds like success, and Matthews is increasingly confident that his patience with the emerging team will ultimately be rewarded.
“We’re well on our way, and we’re moving in the right direction at this point,” he said. “We have some kids who maybe they’re not having the success in wins in losses, but they’re starting to do things the right way and figure out the sport at the high school level. When you get that first win, that’s really what fuels that fire to do it again. That’s the ultimate feeling, because you did it on your own.”