DELTA COUNTY - Suiting up seven grapplers, head coach Jordan Larsen and assistant Cody Haga both knew Ignacio's singlets would be in for a long, sweaty Screaming Eagle Invitational Saturday, Jan. 26, in Paonia.
"It was a nice tournament to see what our regional tournament is basically going to be," Larsen said, briefly looking ahead to the 2A-Region I Championships, Feb. 15-16 in Montrose. "I thought we had really good competition and our guys wrestled hard the entire tournament. It was great to see where we're at."
And probably just as great to see four Bobcats earn top-six status at the talent-laden event.
All told, IHS piled up 66.5 points and finished a respectable ninth out of 23 teams at the tourney, while the hosting Eagles won with 228. Walsenburg-based 2A John Mall claimed second with 175.5 points, 2A Meeker came in third with 150, and 2A Hayden (148) squeaked ahead of 2A Hotchkiss (147) to bag fourth.
Leading the way for Ignacio was junior Cesar Pedregon, who waited for nearly four hours after slightly delayed 8 a.m. start time before finally seeing first-round action, and winning it by pin in just 19 seconds, at 182 pounds against 3A Olathe junior Norma Alejandro.
He then lost 11-2 to San Juan Basin League rival Will Gabriel of Nucla in the semifinals, but bounced back to pin 3A Basalt's Jose Castorena in an elapsed 2:35 and stuck MHS' Kesston Hobbs in 2:32 to earn third place. Gabriel edged Hayden's Hunter Planansky 5-4 for first.
Arriving at PHS ranked seventh amongst Class 2A 160-pounders by On The Mat, senior Dustin Sanchez reacted with a vengeance to a 16-6 quarterfinals loss to Norwood's Austin Overholt, pinning JMHS' Diego Sanchez in 54 seconds and 3A Steamboat Springs' Ivan Reynolds in 59, then following those successes with a tense 4-2 win over 2A Center's Mario Chavez.
But after reaching the third-place test, the Bobcat finished with a 4-2 tournament record after MHS' Brayden Woodward - who'd advanced via a forfeit win over Overholt - sprung a first-overtime takedown.
IHS junior Clay Campbell saved his squad fifth-place points at 170 pounds, and finished the event 3-2 by pinning 2A PHS' Trenton Gaston in only 50 seconds. Senior 138-pounder Skieler Grooms went 2-3, with both his first (by a 9-6 decision) and last (by a 7-2 count) losses coming against 2A Rangely's Tytus Coombs, but still placed sixth.
Freshman Shawn Campbell went 0-2 at 132 but nearly pinned his eventual eliminator, Norwood's Gage Owen, before being pinned 1:35 into the second period. And at 126, senior Hunter Robbins did not place but went 2-2 for the day with a first-round, third-period pin (with just five ticks left in regulation) of Basalt's Zach Pagan and a consolation-round, second-period (with seven seconds left) stick of 4A Palisade's Cobe Clark.
Up next for the 'Cats will be their own Butch Melton Memorial Invitational on Saturday, Feb. 2, inside IHS Gymnasium. Start time is set for 8 a.m.
"This is another big test to see where we are at, and I think it's going to bring out our best," said Larsen. "Everybody is going to get five really high-quality matches, and we're excited to see how we do."
Ignacio will then compete Feb. 7 at the SJBL Duals, hosted this season by Dove Creek. At the Screaming Eagle, all circuit crews trailed IHS in the standings as Norwood took tenth (62.5 points), Nucla 11th (55.5), Dolores 18th (27), DCHS T-20th (20), and Mancos 23rd (4).