Graff eyes elite group

Loveland senior win from becoming 15th four-time champion

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Everyone at the Pepsi Center on Friday night knew what was at stake for Loveland High School's Tyler Graff. The Indians ace, ranked No. 1 in the nation by Wrestling USA, will be seeking to become the state's 15th, four-time state champion.

And Graff has left little to doubt over the past two days that he means serious business as he goes for a repeat title at 130 pounds. He has pinned all three of his opponents in the first period.

That included Coronado freshman Nick Burghardt in 1:07 in the afternoon quarterfinals, then Mitchell's Daryl Jackson in 51 seconds in his semifinal match.

Graff will face Rocky Mountain's Tino Laureles for the championship tonight with the intention of improving his season record to 40-0 and his career record to a staggering 160-1.

"I have to look at (Friday night) as just another match," Graff said. "But I have had a goal of winning four titles since my freshman year."

For that matter, Ponderosa's state champions, Jake Snider and Zeke Hofer, also knew what was at stake individually and for their team during the Class 5A semifinals. Get the wins and there would be a good chance the Mustangs would be in a solid position to win their sixth-consecutive team championship. The Mustangs have 126 points through the semifinals, with Loveland in second with 91.

Hofer, who was a state champion two years ago but had to settle for second last season, is more than pleased to be back in the finals. But it took a takedown with 18 seconds remaining in his match with Smoky Hill's Nolan Myers to pull out a 4-3 victory.

"Yep, it's back to the finals for a third time," said Hofer, who improved to 27-9. "I felt a bit gassed (Friday night), but I think I'll be fine (today). I thought the match might have been a little more one-sided in my favor before we started, but it was anything but. It was a good win for our team, too, and I think we're all wrestling with confidence."

Snider, a sophomore, came through with a 13-5 victory against Denver East's Jacob Milewski in their 140-pound bout. He improved to 38-4 but did expect to see a different opponent in the finals than Durango's Rhett Breed.

Breed upended Air Academy's Oliver Yaney in the quarterfinals 13-9, then defeated Grand Junction's Matt Bethka 1-0 in the semifinals.

"I was not feeling nerves at all, just going out and having fun right now," Snider said. "I feel good about the team situation, and we hope to get another for coach (Tim) Ottmann, since this is his last year.

"I haven't wrestled anyone in the tournament before and I have not wrestled Breed, either," Snider said. "I've wrestled a lot of tough matches this year and (tonight) could be another one. I was surprised that Yaney lost as I expected to see him in the finals."

Ottmann's son, Jake, who was the runner-up last season at 215, will have an opportunity to atone for his loss. He again will face Grand Junction's defending champion, Robert Tucker, for the title. He defeated Pomona's Donny Haupt 10-3 to reach the finals after pinning Legacy's Shawn Jenkins in 2:18 in his quarterfinal match.

Also in the championship field for Ponderosa will be Stephone Kling at 152, who will wrestle surprising Denzel Washington from Regis Jesuit, and Daniel Kelly at 145, who was a 9-0 winner over Fruita Monument's Phillip Colby.

Ponderosa will be tough to overcome in the points department. Second-place Loveland only managed to get three wrestlers in the finals. Joining Graff will be unbeaten Josh Dreimier (41-0) and Luke Vandenburg at 189 (42-1).

Pomona's Nick Jones also is back in the finals seeking the 135-pound title. He defeated Jackson Julian of Chaparral 11-3 to reach the final against Grandview's Patrick Brown.

"I was really nervous going into the match, and I just didn't want my nerves to get the best of me," said Jones (38-2). "I just went out and wrestled the best I could and came out with the win. I beat Brown 19-4 at Arvada West. I'll have to be cautious and again, not let my nerves get the best of me and don't let the crowd bother me."

Grandview's Eric Wilson ended the hopes of Rocky Mountain's Jeremy Schmitt for a second title in the loaded 112-pound bracket. Wilson pinned Schmitt in 6:43 in overtime and will face Northglenn's defending champion, Phillip Grout.

"This feels great," Wilson said. "We liked the way the bracket worked out in our favor. I wrestled hard because I had nothing to lose. I wrestled him before in the finals at Arvada West, and I lost 5-1.

"I had some motivation coming off that loss and to get him back a little bit," Wilson said. "And this is where it really mattered. It's going to be a tough one (tonight) against Phillip."

Washington had the most surprising run in the tournament. He came through with a 10-4 victory against Lewis-Palmer's Chad Stich and will face Kling. And it will be the only weight class in which the two finalists were not even picked to place.

"I just gave it my all, and that's what I'm going to do (tonight)," said Washington, who was named after the famed actor. "Guys were probably looking past me, but being a freshman, that's probably going to happen. I haven't wrestled any of the others in the tournament, but I know Stephone well because we have practiced together. But we have not wrestled in a regulation match."

The finals are set for 6:30 tonight.

Class 5A championships

* 103: Jared Rieck, Coronado, Fr. (32-2), vs. Matthew Gurule, Grand Junction Central, So. (40-6).

* 112: Eric Wilson, Grandview, Jr. (37-5), vs. Philip Grout, Northglenn, Jr. (44-1).

* 119: Josh Kreimier, Loveland, Jr. (41-0), vs. Chris Wessel, Legacy, Jr. (38-6).

* 125: Dominic Valenzuela, Centaurus, Sr. (21-4), vs. Zeke Hofer, Ponderosa, Jr. (27-9).

* 130: Tino Laureles, Rocky Mountain, Jr. (35-5), vs. Tyler Graff, Loveland, Sr. (39-0).

* 135: Patrick Brown, Grandview, Sr. (24-6), vs. Nick Jones, Pomona, Sr. (38-2).

* 140: Jake Snider, Ponderosa, So. (38-4), vs. Rhett Breed, Durango, Sr. (26-4).

* 145: Ryan Bratton, Northglenn, Sr. (39-6), vs. Daniel Kelly, Ponderosa, Jr. (33-6).

* 152: Stephone Kling, Ponderosa, Jr. (26-10), vs. Denzel Washington, Regis Jesuit, Fr. (35-7).

* 160: Garrett Lanham, Centaurus, Sr. (34-8), vs. Mike Morgan, Lakewood, Jr. (39-3).

* 171: Casey Norgard, Rocky Mountain, Jr. (34-6), vs. Jacob Terada, Northglenn, Sr. (41-5).

* 189: James Breidel, ThunderRidge, Sr. (40-0), vs. Luke Vandenburg, Loveland, Sr. (42-1).

* 215: Robert Tucker, Grand Junction, Sr. (35-2), vs. Jake Ottmann, Ponderosa, Sr. (34-6).

* 285: Cody Gilmore, Grandview, Sr. (37-4), vs. Ray Hatchett, Sand Creek, Sr. (37-3).

 Coronado's Carter McElhany, right, tangles with Loveland's Josh Kreimier in their 119-pound match.

Joshua Duplechian / Special To The Rocky

Coronado's Carter McElhany, right, tangles with Loveland's Josh Kreimier in their 119-pound match.


Rocky Mountain's Casey Norgard earns a spot in the 171-pound championship 

Joshua Duplechian / Special To The Rocky

Rocky Mountain's Casey Norgard earns a spot in the 171-pound championship match.