12/6/2007 2:20:00 PM   

File photo by Courtney Oakes
The Aurora Sentinel
Grandview junior Eric Wilson, right, holds his third-place medal at 103 pounds on the podium at the 2007 Class 5A state wrestling tournament on Feb. 17 at the Pepsi Center in Denver. Wilson is Aurora's highest returning placer and is one of a city-high six state qualifiers back in the room for the Wolves this season.
File photo by Courtney Oakes/The Aurora Sentinel
Regis senior Danny Bieshaar, right, holds onto Cherry Creek's Adam Huckaby in a 125-pound consolation match at the 2007 Class 5A state wrestling tournament on Feb. 15 at the Pepsi Center in Denver. Bieshaar won the match and went on to place fifth.

Wrestling: Maestas could have best pack of Wolves
Grandview has back six of city's 15 returning state qualifiers

By Courtney Oakes
The Aurora Sentinel

Regis put together a dream wrestling season last year on the strength of four standouts who inspired the team to new heights.

The Raiders had five placers, including a state champion in John Hooper, and came away with a school-best third-place team finish at the 2007 Class 5A state wrestling tournament at the Pepsi Center.

This season's Aurora wrestling team to watch is Grandview, though the Wolves are hardly coming out of nowhere.

Grandview has become one of the most consistent programs in the state under coach Greg Maestas and have had at least one finalist in three straight seasons. But this year's team features six returning qualifiers - including third-place finisher Eric Wilson - which gives this group a chance to be the best in school history and better its top all-time finish of seventh, accomplished twice.

"On paper with what we have back, we're pretty strong, but we'll just have to see what we can do now," said Maestas, who enters his 10th season at the helm. "For the most part, all these guys did something in the off season to get ready. We should be solid and we've got some big dogs we can count on."

Wilson's the biggest dog the Wolves have, although he'll be at 112 pounds this season. He was blanked in two state matches at 103 pounds as a freshman and lost his first one last year, but won five straight to earn a medal.

Hardly satisfied, Wilson worked rigorously in the offseason and wrestled top-notch competition in Fargo, North Dakota, along with teammate Patrick Brown. Because of his size, Wilson will be a handful for most 112-pounders in Maestas' opinion, though he is too small for 119s.

Returning to the pack along with Wilson are seniors Brown - a two-time state qualifier with more than 60 total wins in two years - Cody Gilmore and Bryce Lucherini, along with juniors Mike Balagna and Josh Starr. They all got a taste of state competition with varying degrees of success.

The Wolves will have to make due without Gilmore, Cody McCutcheon and Jake Bomareto to start the year, as the members of the school's football team that won the 5A state championship on Dec. 1 will take a week off before hitting the mat.

When they return, Grandview should be balanced and formidable.

The holdovers from Regis' outstanding state run are 130-pounder Danny Bieshaar (fifth last season plus 40 wins) and 171-pounder Brian Rubenstrunk, who should lead a group bolstered by highly-touted freshman Denzel Washington. An accomplished youth wrestler, Washington has the skills to be a state placer if he can learn how to wrestle against the older competition he'll be facing.

Aurora Central also has two 5A qualifiers back in senior Daniel Armijo - a potential placer at 140 pounds after winning 38 matches last year - and improved junior Phil Nguyen.

Smoky Hill senior Nolan Myers has a new coach in Jim Opperman, a veteran who could help unlock the potential that's kept Myers from placing in two previous trips to the state tournament.

Cherokee Trail hosts a regional tournament in its last season in 4A and coach Jeff Buck and the Cougars could use it to far exceed the school's previous high of two qualifiers - set last season with Dustin Brown and Daniel Jordan. Both are back and could have company at the Pepsi Center from a more veteran Cougars team.