Wrestling on their home mat for the final time of the 2021 campaign, Montezuma-Cortez and Dolores sent their five collective seniors out in style Saturday, as each member of the class of 2021 posted a victory to cap their dual match careers. The M-CHS/Dolores combined squad used the clean senior sweep to propel them to a 37-23 victory over Bayfield, rebounding from an earlier 31-24 defeat at the hands of a combined Monte Vista/Del Norte squad.
M-CHS/Dolores 37, Bayfield 23Shortly before their match against Bayfield, M-CHS and Dolores honored their five seniors – Kael Buffington, Austin Featherman, Wes Atcitty, and Anthony Abeyta from M-CHS, and Joe Summers from Dolores.
The Panthers hopped out to an early lead, courtesy of junior Jayven Valdez, who posted a pin of Hunter Anderson in the 126 division.
That set the stage for the parade of Panther and Bear seniors to take the spotlight. Featherman continued the momentum, pouncing early on Bayfield’s James Mars. After Mars fended off Featherman’s relentless attacking style through the opening period, the Panther broke through with a decisive move to begin the second period. The Panther finished the pin at 2:22.
Atcitty took to the mat next at 138, using takedowns to post an early lead over Morgan Hastings of the Wolverines. After nearly taking a pin in the second period, Atcitty continued to collect points and cement his advantage. When the final horn sounded, Atcitty had a 10-2 major decision victory.
After a Bayfield victory over Dolores’ Levi Fuller at 145, Abeyta looked to restore the momentum for the home team. With an aggressive start, the 2020 state qualifier required scarcely more than a minute to finish off Bayfield’s Deegan Barnes.
“I didn’t enter the season ranked in my weight class,” said Abeyta of his pin at 1:06, “so I came out motivated right out of the gate.”
At the heavyweight division, Summers grappled with Bayfield’s Jordan Sands for the majority of a stalemate first period. Early in the second, however, Summers planted Sands on the ground with a takedown, and pinned the Wolverine moments later.
“I spent part of the first period trying to gauge how strong he was, and what moves he was trying to use,” said Summers of his win, “so once I figured that out, I knew that I would be able to take him down.”
The Bear senior credited his work ethic and support of his teammates and coaches for his rise to one of the top wrestlers in the region. “It’s been an honor to wrestle with this group of guys,” said Summers, “we’re all a bunch of hard workers, and that’s led to where we are now.”
Capping the day, at the 106 division, Buffington found himself in a stern test against Keaton Pickering. The Panther seized the first points of the match, but Pickering responded, and briefly took momentum. However, Buffington picked up crucial points in the later stages, and was able to hold on to take a 5-2 decision.
Part of the improvement for Summers and his teammates has been in confidence. “So much of this sport is between the ears,” said Summers, “and my whole mental approach is different this season compared to last year.”
For Abeyta, the bond that he has developed with his teammates is something that extends beyond the wins and losses. “These guys are family,” said Abeyta of his senior teammates, “ever since we were little, we’ve been wrestling together, so it’s hard to believe that we’re all here on Senior Day celebrating this together.”
Senior day holds special meaning for a close-knit Panther squad, and to commemorate it in front of family and friends means a lot to Abeyta. “This is the conclusion to the story,” he reflected, “with all the hard work that we’ve put in, it’s good to say ‘I made it here’.”
Monte Vista/Del Norte 31, M-CHS/Dolores 24The Panthers picked up victories in their opening match from Featherman, who took down Dominic Lopez in just over a minute, and from freshman Hunter Goodall, who took the upper hand in the third period against Jaxon Martinez to collect a pin at 5:12.
With a proud wrestling tradition, Summers hopes that he takes the next step this upcoming week to represent Dolores at the state’s highest level. “I want to continue that legacy of state qualifiers,” he added, “and I believe with the support of my coaches, parents, and teammates, that’s something I can achieve.”
The Panthers and Bears turn their focus to the 3A and 2A regional meets, respectively, as the margin for error is reduced to qualify for the state tournament field. The top two qualifiers at each weight classification will move on to the State Championships, to be hosted on Friday, Mar. 12th at the Southwest Motors Events Center in Pueblo.