Wrestling: Wrestlers finally make it to
Pepsi Center trip a long time coming for
several Aurora qualifiers
By COURTNEY OAKES
The Aurora Sentinel
Every high school wrestler who takes the
mat at the Pepsi Center for the state
wrestling tournament feels a certain
amount of pride for making it downtown.
Some, like Grandview senior Eric Wilson
— who will compete in his fourth Class
5A state tournament Feb. 19-21 — qualify
early in their careers and make going
back a habit.
Others, like Eaglecrest’s Dan Moore,
Gateway’s Brent Willis and six other
seniors among Aurora’s 31 state
qualifiers, it will be their first and
last taste after falling short due to
bad luck, injury or loaded regionals.
“I feel so good, it’s ridiculous; I’ve
been dreaming about this day for the
last four years, I promise you, so to
see it actually happen is amazing,” said
Willis, who finally reached the state
tournament by making it to the 145-pound
championship match the Region 3
tournament Feb. 14 at Legacy.
Willis and senior 160-pounder Renato
Fierro join senior Justin Freeman (152
pounds) and junior LaDaris Mungin (130)
as the Olys’ largest group of state
qualifiers since 2000.
Mungin and Freeman both made it to the
Pepsi Center last season, but Willis and
Fierro get their first shots.
Fierro’s only wrestled
for two years, so his wait has been
short, while Willis suffered through
three disappointing roller-coaster
seasons before finally punching his
ticket to state.
Willis (28-3) clinched his spot with a
particularly sweet 5-3 comeback win over
Chaparral’s Tyler Stenger in the
regional semifinals. The icing on the
cake for Willis was that he got to pay
Stenger back for dealing him his first
loss of the year.
It didn’t happen without some adversity,
however, as Willis had to battle back
from a 3-0 deficit in the second period,
the result of an illegal move that
netted Stenger two penalty points.
Willis got a takedown late in the period
to make it 3-2, tied it with an escape
point early in the third and got a
takedown in the final 20 seconds.
“I thought to myself, ‘you have to come
back from this, you can’t let it slip
away now,’” Willis said. “Thankfully I
took him down and I won.
“I called my mom, I called my girl and I
called my grandma. Now I want state.”
Willis — who was pinned by Air Academy’s
Taylor Hollister in the regional
championship match — credited Mungin,
Freeman and Fierro for helping him hone
several aspects of his wrestling.
Three of Eaglecrest’s four state
qualifiers — Moore at 130 pounds,
112-pounder Matt Ritz and 160-pounder
Jordan Johnson — are first-time
qualifiers as seniors.
Prior to his freshman year at Eaglecrest,
Moore moved to Colorado from
Pennsylvania, where the 100-win
milestone is huge for a wrestler.
With a 31-second pin of Monarch’s Nick
Vaughn in his first match at the Region
1 tournament at Eaglecrest, Moore
reached triple digits in career
victories, a testament to longevity and
good fortune in avoiding major injury,
but still hadn’t set foot on the Pepsi
He fixed that after winning two more
matches and making the regional
championship match, where he was pinned
by top-ranked Gavin Peters of Standley
Moore — who lost both his regional
matches as a freshman, placed sixth as a
sophomore and missed the podium last
year — hasn’t exactly lost sleep over
missing state, but is anxious now that
his chance is here.
“I don’t think I would trade or change
anything,” Moore said. “Maybe the state
experience would have been better, but
I’ve wrestled in big tournaments before.
“It’s awesome to make it to state,
though, and make all the hard work
finally worth it.”
Moore (31-8) doesn’t intend to go two
and out at state and relishes his chance
to take on higher-ranked wrestlers with
more pressure on them.
He’s also looking forward to seeing what
his teammates can do. Ritz and Johnson
also overcame a lot to qualify and Moore
is good friends with junior 145-pounder
Gage Fell, who will also wrestle at the
Pepsi Center for the first time.
“We’re a really close team and we’ve
grown together this season through the
pain and the suffering, and now the
triumph,” Moore said. “We’ve put in the
time, so hopefully we all do well.”
The list of senior first-timers also
includes Aurora Central’s Jeff Ibanez
(119 pounds), Grandview’s Enos Ozekin
(189 pounds) and Smoky Hill’s Shawn
Miller (160 pounds).
On the other end of the spectrum among
seniors is Grandview’s Wilson, Aurora’s
first four-time state qualifier since
Regis’ Bryan Zerr (2002-05). Wilson
placed third at 103 pounds as a
sophomore, won the 112-pound state
championship and has a legitimate chance
at a 119-pound title this season. He is
40-4 and ranked second at his weight
behind Northglenn’s Philip Grout, who he
beat in last season’s 112-pound final.
“Eric is prepared and I think he is
ready,” said Grandview coach Greg
Maestas, who has had a pair of state
champions in two of the last three 5A
“He’s done everything he can do and
should do,” he added. “Hopefully he can
make it back to the finals.”
Wilson headlines a group of six
qualifiers for the Wolves — five who
have already made at least one state
appearance — who have led or tied for
the most qualifiers among Aurora teams
in every season since 2001.
Senior 135-pounder Josh Christopher is
Overland’s only state qualifier, but he
has a chance to make a run in his third
trip to the Pepsi Center. Christopher,
who placed sixth last season at 130
pounds, won the Region 1 championship.