CORTEZ – Up in the corner of the gymnasium at Montezuma-Cortez High School, banners commemorate the legacy of Panthers wrestling with the names of former state champions. With the shortened 2021 season already near its midpoint, a senior-laden M-CHS squad has visions of adding more names to those banners.
Hosting their first of two home meets this season on Saturday, a combined M-CHS and Dolores squad topped Dove Creek 36-18 before drawing with Ignacio 30-30. Dove Creek rebounded to capture a 27-24 dual meet win over Ignacio.
M-CHS/Dolores 36, Dove Creek 18The day’s matches kicked off with several showdowns at the lighter weight classifications between a combined Montezuma-Cortez/Dolores squad and Dove Creek.
M-CHS senior Kael Buffington took on Bulldogs standout Cole Taber in the 106 showdown, with Buffington taking an early advantage. With time winding down in the opening period, the Panther captured the upper hand and the victory, pinning Taber at 1:36.
After Dove Creek’s Jayden Bailey and Gage Bailey posted forfeit wins at 113 and 120, respectively, the Panthers sent junior Jayven Valdez to the mat to take on Dove Creek’s Quaden Huffaker in the 126 classification.
The duo battled through an evenly matched opening period, before Valdez started to swing momentum in his favor early in the second. In the dying seconds of the period, Valdez solidified his advantage and pinned Huffaker at 3:39.
At 132, Austin Featherman, one of the two returning Panthers with state tournament experience, faced off against Caden Baker of the Bulldogs. Featherman took an aggressive approach to Baker with an early takedown, before pinning the Bulldog moments later at 1:44.
“It’s awesome to come out here after all the hard work that we put in during the week,” said Featherman, “to be able to show it in a match.”
From a technical standpoint, the Panther senior pointed to an area of focus for him. “I’ve been working on snaps, so it was good to put that into my match today.”
Dove Creek responded with their first victory of the day in a competed match, as Tyson Beanland turned in a reversal against Panther senior Wes Atcitty, and consolidated his advantage with a pin late in the first period.
Panthers freshman Hunter Goodall picked up a forfeit win, and Dolores Bears wrestlers Gabe Allred and Joe Summers added to the team point tally with forfeits as well.
M-CHS 30, Ignacio 30With a victory under their belts, the Panthers turned their focus to Ignacio. With a limited number of weight classes where both squads fielded a competitor, the match only pitted three competitions on the mat.
At 106 pounds, Buffington continued his strong day, scoring an early takedown of Bobcat Cayle McCoy, before finishing off the pin in just over a minute. Buffington would later take on Devante Montoya in an exhibition match – Montoya wrestles at 113 – with the Panther again coming out on top to complete a 3-0 morning.
“I felt like I wrestled really well today,” reflected Buffington, “even going up in weight class for the exhibition.”
Ignacio responded with a pair of hard-fought wins – the first of which belonged to returning state qualifier Keaton McCoy. After debuting as a freshman at 126, McCoy entered Saturday’s dual against Wes Atcitty in the 138 classification.
The sophomore took Atcitty down with a sharp early move, then continued to battle for better position before finally taking the pin at 1:33.
Meanwhile, the lone match of the day to be competed above the 138-pound class came in the heavyweight division. Ignacio’s Jeremy Roderick faced Joe Summers of Dolores in one of the most competitive matches of the day.
The duo grappled through an evenly matched first period, with neither establishing clear control. After an escape from Roderick to start the second frame, the junior took down Summers to consolidate his lead. The Bear grappler responded with an escape of his own to close the gap to 3-1 with the clock ticking midway through the period.
Then, Roderick made a decisive move, overpowering Summers to the mat, and collecting the pin moments later.
After a productive day from his upperclassmen, M-CHS head coach Shad Bellmire lauded his team’s energy.
“Everything’s starting to come together for us,” said Bellmire, “these young men are really putting together what we’ve been working on at practice.”
“They’ve got their eye on the prize,” added Bellmire, “we know that we just need to keep working hard and stay focused.”
Sitting in a region that includes 3A state powers Pagosa Springs and Alamosa, Montezuma-Cortez knows that any berth into the state championships will be hard-earned. The state tournament will be more selective in 2021, as only two wrestlers from each region will qualify for the state championships to be competed at the Southwest Motors Events Center in Pueblo.
“Our region is tough, but so are we,” concluded Bellmire, “so even with all the curveballs we’ve had thrown at us this year, these young men know there are no excuses.”
Buffington’s perfect day, coupled with a 2-0 performance from Featherman highlighted the Panther attack. Halfway through their final campaign in orange-and-black, both know that they’d like to add their name to Panther wrestling lore.
“We’ve put in a lot of work over the weeks,” said Buffington, “and we’re working toward an end goal.”
“Our next step is to keep grinding,” added Featherman, “we know we need to be ready for six-minute matches.”
The Panthers prepare to take on Mancos, Nucla and Dolores on Saturday, Feb. 20, before late season tests against Pagosa Springs and Bayfield in the final week of the regular season. The regional tournament, hosted by Pagosa Springs, will be held the first weekend of March, leading up to the 3A state tournament being competed on Friday, March 12.
Ultimately, as Featherman put it, the goal for he and each of his Panther teammates is to “put our names up in the gym.”
Dove Creek 27, Ignacio 24The final match pitted the Bulldogs against the Bobcats, and the festivities kicked off in fine fashion at the 138 weight division. A pair of victors from earlier in the day, McCoy and Beanland, both brought an early energy to the match.
Beanland posted the first takedown, but McCoy escaped. The Bulldog’s persistence paid off with another two-pointer on the takedown, but again McCoy had an answer, this time with a reversal. McCoy refused to concede momentum. The sophomore Bobcat forced Beanland onto his back, and from there, finished the pin late in the opening period.
The Bulldogs turned the match around moments later, as Cole Taber topped Ignacio’s Cael McCoy at 106 via pin. Then, Dove Creek’s Jaydon Bailey and Ignacio’s Devonte Montoya had both team benches on the edge of their seats. The duo put together a scoring fest with numerous reversals and momentum swings. In the end, Bailey produced the final push to outlast Montoya, 16-14, to an ovation from both squads.