Two days in Florence gave a pretty good preview of how three days in Denver will look.
And before the Bayfield Wolverines traveled east for the Jan. 18-19 Mel Smith Husky Invitational, an honest who's-who gathering of top Class 3A wrestling talent and virtual State Championships preview, head coach Todd McMenimen made sure his crew knew that though the stakes would be high, the experience itself will prove more valuable. The meet also includes strong competition coming from the 4A and 2A ranks.
"I tell the kids all the time, 'I won't be down on you one bit if you lose a match because you're trying something that you need to see if it's going to work,'" he'd said earlier this season. "And you get pinned or something? I'm not going to get down on you. I'd rather you see it, learn it now."
"Even when we're up in the room, none of it is quite the same," he continued. "Yeah, it's nice to win the duals, it's nice to win tournaments, but every bit of this is practice. I would rather see us put ourselves in certain positions and try things, even if it means a loss, to know what works and what doesn't work."
And if there ever was a time or place for senior 220-pounder Daniel Westbrook to receive his first loss this winter, the senior would rather it come at Florence than inside the Pepsi Center at state.
Finishing second at his weight, Westbrook dropped only a 1-0 decision to Salida's top-ranked Eli Smith, finished 3-1 at the Invitational and improved to 18-1 overall, while Smith rose to 18-0. Westbrook's first two wins at the Mel Smith came via pin, and he stopped 3A Sterling's second-ranked Drew Book 5-2 in the semifinals.
All told, BHS earned 15th place out of 31 squads, totaling 70.5 points. Olathe took 10th with 86, while 3A Gypsum Eagle Valley (168), 3A Eaton (159.5) and 3A Intermountain Leaguers Pagosa Springs (151.5) placed 1-2-3.
Junior John Foutz (22-3) was just as crucial to Bayfield's success in Florence, taking third place at 195 pounds by going 4-1 at the tournament. He totaled four pins, including #4-ranked Gauge Lockhart of Delta in his last bout, 1:12 into the second period, and lost only to PSHS' Caleb Janowsky in the semis by a 5-3 margin.
"It was an excellent opportunity for John and Daniel to measure up," said McMenimen. "As I've said all season, we've got two of the toughest kids in the heavier weights, and this weekend just confirmed it."
Junior Shane Moore went 3-2 at 170 pounds, and sophomore Dylan Pickering went 1-2 at 126, but each reached the consolation-bracket quarterfinals before being denied a shot at top-six status. Freshman Avery Mitzlaff went 0-2 at 106, classmate Simon Schneider was 1-2 at 113, and sophomore Xander Hovenstine was 0-2 at 120.
At 132 pounds, senior Colby Baker went 1-1 on the championship side of the ladder, and 1-1 on the consolation side for a 2-2 showing. Freshman Xander Dykes went 0-2 at 138, fellow frosh Kobe Prior finished 1-2 at 152, and junior Paden Williamson went 0-2 at 182 pounds.
Up next, BHS will travel south to Aztec on Saturday for the 37th annual Tiger Duals.