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Wrestling Preview

Experienced lineup fuels postseason expectations for Niwot

Series: Niwot Wrestling | Story 1

December 11, 2019

Courtesy Photo

Niwot's Jovani Lopez took first overall in the 285 lb. bracket at the Mike Stanley Invite at Fairview High School on Dec. 7.

The memorable moments have been few and far between for the Niwot wrestling team over the past few seasons, but fifth-year head coach Bobby Matthews thinks this could be the year it all turns around. With two returning state qualifiers, plus a solid class of newcomers, the 2019-20 squad has at least one key thing the 2018-19 team lacked.

"We have a little more experience this year than we've had in years past," Matthews said. "Last year, we didn't have any state qualifiers returning, we didn't have a lot of senior depth, we didn't have a lot of older kids, and we didn't have a lot of kids who'd wrestled before. As a coach, you have to curb your enthusiasm, but I'm hoping to have some more successes."

The coach is pinning much of his hope on his relatively large senior class of seven, including fourth-year wrestlers Keith Hemmenway, Jovani Lopez, Max Pecherzewski, and Daniel Torres. Lopez and Torres both placed fourth at the 2019 regional qualifier and earned berths to the Class 4A state championships at the Pepsi Center, and Matthews is looking for the pair to model that experience for their teammates this season.

"Going down to the Pepsi Center for the first time is an eye-opening experience," Matthews said. "Now Jovani and Daniel know what it takes to get there, and what it's like when you are there, and how hard it is to even place. I can see it in their preparation. You can tell they have a little more pep in their step, and they're working harder. They know they have to."

Torres certainly does. After making an early exit from the 195-pound bracket at the 2019 Class 4A championships in February, he started plotting a return trip in 2020 that hopefully ends with getting his picture taken on the podium.

"I trained over the summer a lot, and learned new moves and got more experience wrestling," he said. "Going to state gave me a good view of what to expect and what's to come, and it also motivated me to train harder, and try to get better than last year."

Matthews has also penciled-in Lopez for a return trip to the Pepsi Center, after the senior put in a lot of extra training and conditioning during the off season. The 2019 homecoming king is also coming off a tough Niwot Football season that saw him spending time as both a fullback and defensive tackle.

"He's filled out, gotten stronger, and he grew into his body," Matthews said of his heavyweight, who went 0-2 in the 285 lb. division at state last year. "He's much stronger, quicker, and better on his feet. I'm looking for him to have a much better season than last year and hopefully get on the podium at state."

Matthews has similar expectations for senior Hemmenway, who he said has "come a long way over his four years," as well as Luis Sosa, who wrestled for two seasons before taking a year off as a junior. However, the seasoned veterans will bring more to the team than just more hardware, according to the coach.

"It brings a little bit more leadership and a little bit more accountability. It's kids who've made it all four years, and that's huge. These younger kids see it, and they see how they work in the room, so they're the example. That's so important because they've been through it, and they know what the grind of the season is, and they can relay it to the younger kids."

Those younger kids are also helping to propel Matthews' hopes for success, especially his "very solid" freshman class, which includes a number of former middle school wrestlers. Also new to the team this year are sophomores Jose Sosa, Luis' younger brother, and James Roland, who is looking to improve his technique for Niwot's offensive line.

"They have knowledge of what they're doing-maybe not vast knowledge, but it's not brand new to them," Matthews said of the newcomers, who also include Angel Aldama and Parker Lim. "We didn't have to find shoes for them."

That has paid off for the Cougars in ways that might not be fully appreciated by outsiders, according to the coach.

"We've been able to pick up practice a little quicker than we have in the past because we have fewer kids with no experience. We're able to just start, as opposed to really slowing practice down and teaching the basic stance and motion. We're able to touch on it, then move on, and kids are helping each other."

Niwot's performance at the Mike Stanley Invitational on December 7 shows that Matthews could be onto something with his Pepsi Center expectations. Led by Lopez, who clinched the title in the heavyweight class, the Cougars won 12 matches, and ended the day with 51.0 points, their highest total in a season opener in some time. Also scoring for Niwot were Hemmenway (8.0), Torres (7.0), Pecherzewski (5.0), Luis Sosa (4.0), and Aldama (3.0).

Also returning to the varsity for Niwot are Andrew Campos, Aidan Coopman, Easten Leatherwood, and Johnny Ramirez. Matthews and the squad are looking ahead to a busy December, with an upcoming dual against Greeley Central on Dec. 12, followed by tournaments at Wheat Ridge (Dec. 14) and UNC (Dec. 20-21) before the holiday break. Coming up in the first week of January will be the annual Niwot-hosted Gary Daum tournament, named for the late storied Cougar coach who led the program from 1977 to 2005.

"We've got another solid line-up of teams coming in," Matthews said. "Since I've gotten here, I've pushed to make it a lot tougher than it used to be. This year we've brought Horizon in, and Fort Morgan is coming back, and I'm really looking forward to hosting it."

By then, Matthews said the team could look a little different, as latecomers join and others drop off, but he will have a good idea of who is ready to make that run for the Pepsi Center.

"This sport's going to make you tough, and it's going to test you all year," he said of Niwot's path to the 2019 championships. "That expectation is not just that we're there as participants, but that we also have some placers, and some people to put up on the wall of fame at the end of the year."


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