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Student-Athlete of the Week: Jovani Lopez

 
Series: Student-Athlete of the Week | Story 24

February 19, 2020 | View PDF

Jocelyn Rowley

Senior Jovani Lopez clinched a second straight berth to the Class 4A state championships with a second-place finish at the regional qualifier at Windsor on Feb. 15.

Jovani Lopez got more than he bargained for when he joined the Niwot wrestling team as a ninth-grader, but the senior heavyweight isn't complaining. As he looks ahead to his second straight appearance in the Class 4A state wrestling championships, the soft-spoken Lopez said the sport has brought him more than just success on the mat.

"The biggest reason I did wrestling was to lose weight," he said. "But I eventually found out that I love wrestling. I like winning and beating other people. I like making new friends and having a bond with them. Since we suffer in practice, that makes us bond even closer."

Lopez is one of a handful of four-year wrestlers in the Niwot program this season, and arguably its most successful. Wrestling in the 285-pound class, he finished the 2020 regular season with a 32-7 record and finished third or better in all but one meet. He clinched a state-qualifying berth with a second place finish at the Regional 3 tournament on Feb. 15, and is aiming to close out his high school career on the podium at the Pepsi Center-a very attainable goal, according to Niwot coach Bobby Matthews.

"The biggest thing is he's not wrestling like a heavyweight," Matthews said. "Jovani's really using his athleticism this year to outperform his opponent, and wrestle like a wrestler, not a heavyweight."

That's been a deliberate strategy by Lopez, who wants to redeem his listless performance at the 2019 Class 4A championships.

"Last year, state gave me an anxiety attack," he said. "It was so stressful, because of all the people watching you. It made me nervous, and I didn't win because of it... Over the summer, I thought a lot about it, and I started working out every day and trying to improve my athleticism. I went to wrestling camps with my partners, and I just got better and better."

The improvement has definitely been noticeable, Matthews said, and it should bring him not only a medal at the state tournament, but also attention from college scouts.

"When they see how athletic he is, they're going to give him a shot because finding kids of his size with his athleticism at the college level is very hard... He's only wrestled four years, and now he's starting to understand the sport better. Early in the year, he got in bad situations, and now he's staying out of those and staying in good positions."

Lopez is the fifth of eight siblings, and his large family has also been a source of inspiration and support this year, particularly an uncle, who passed away shortly before Christmas. He has also been encouraged by the success of his older brother Jose ('18), a 2017 heavyweight state qualifier for Niwot, now competing for Cloud County Community College in Kansas.

"I can't beat him yet, though," Jovani Lopez said. "He has college experience."

Lopez has his own college ambitions, and hopes to become a teacher or go into business someday. His favorite subjects are math and statistics and, so far this year, his improvement on the mat has been mirrored in the classroom, and not only so he can keep up his wrestling eligibility.

"I know my parents came to this country to try to get me a good education, and I don't want to ruin that. So that motivates me to keep my grades up and go to classes."

In the meantime, Lopez said he is looking forward to taking on the state's best wrestlers at the Pepsi Center, and enjoying the final days with the teammates and program that has taught him so much.

"In wrestling, if you get knocked down, but you can look up, then you can get up. I've seen that when I get stuck in my life, and if I look up, that's when I can get up."

 

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