After a challenging 2021 campaign, the four area high schools Saturday pitted their best efforts against the premier wrestlers in the region, seeking to earn one of the two coveted spots in their weight classification at next weekend’s state championships. After the dust settled from the grueling two days of competition, three Montezuma-Cortez Panthers and four Mancos Bluejays remained standing, earning the right to wrestle at the Southwest Motors Events Center in Pueblo.
M-CHS seniors Kael Buffington and Austin Featherman outlasted the regional field in the 106 and 132 weight divisions, respectively, to earn regional crowns. Meanwhile, classmate Anthony Abeyta took runner-up spot at 152 pounds to join his teammates in the field of eight in the 3A state championships. It will be a return trip for both Abeyta and Featherman, while Buffington makes his championship debut.
At the 2A regionals in Meeker, Mancos presented state tournament threats across virtually every weight division. After a tough two days competing against state powers Cedaredge and Meeker, the Bluejays landed a four-man contingent on to the state’s most prominent stage, headlined by freshman Levi Martin’s title at 113 pounds. Classmate Dillon Eichner battled to take second place at 106, while senior Ty Everett posted a runner-up finish at 138.
Senior Bluejay Colt Fury had a more circuitous route to his second state title appearance. After falling in the semis, Fury bounced back through the win-back rounds, to get a winner-take-all matchup against Meeker’s Dax Sheridan for the second spot in the 182 weight division. Fury took the match to return to the 2A state championships for the second time in three years.
With the margins razor-thin this year, the trio of M-CHS seniors entered the competition knowing that in spite of a stellar regular season, one small slip might deny them a place in the finals - a requirement for advancing to state. With only three combined losses for Buffington, Featherman, and Abeyta all season, all three picked up pins in the quarterfinals to set up the all-important semifinal duals. Featherman and Buffington protected early leads in their matches and eventually prevailed via decision to assure themselves a spot in the finals and a ticket to state. Abeyta was much more comfortable in his semifinal win, picking up a 15-2 major decision.
Buffington brought a reprisal of his Senior Day win over Bayfield’s Keaton Pickering, as he edged the Wolverine 5-4 to take the regional crown.
Featherman’s opponent was more of an unknown, but the Panther took care of Moffat County’s Caden Call in a 9-5 decision to continue his unbeaten season and join Buffington at the top of the podium.
Abeyta’s bid to make it a third Panther title fell short against Pagosa Springs’ Brae Bergdolt, who narrowly edged the Panther, 3-2.
Every M-CHS wrestler who took to the mat picked up at least one match victory on the weekend, including junior Jayven Valdez’s run through the consolation bracket to claim fourth at 126 pounds.
Meanwhile, in the 2A regionals, a hot start got the Bluejays off and running, as their wrestlers combined to go 9-3 in their opening-round matches. As a team, Mancos piled up the points to take third place.
Martin controlled all three of his matches en route to the Bluejays’ lone individual title. He posted a pin and a pair of major decisions, including a 13-3 throttling of Meeker’s Ty Goedert in the title matchup.
Everett, meanwhile, dominated his quarter and semi matches, requiring only four minutes to take two pins, before running into a 6-0 defeat to Hayden’s Dylan Zimmerman in the 138 final.
Greenlee was similarly effective in his opening two matches, with a pin and major decision, and had already punched his ticket to Pueblo before dropping his 195 pounds final to undefeated Colby Clatterbaugh of Meeker.
Eichner bested his first two opponents, including Dove Creek’s Cole Taber, before falling in his regional final bout against Cedaredge’s Tayton Nelson.
The Jays also amassed numerous other deep regional runs, including three third-place finishes from Ayden Mathews, Lane Greenlee and Chase Moore.
Dove Creek’s top performances of the weekend came from Gage Bailey and Cole Taber, who took third place in 120 and 106, respectively.
Gabe Allred of Dolores picked up the lone match victory of the weekend for the Bears at 195.
The season continues this upcoming March 12, with the 2A and 3A state championships at the Southwest Motors Events Center. The 2A quarterfinals begin the day’s events at 9 a.m., followed by the 3A quarters. Championship bouts are slated for 5:15 p.m. for 2A and 7:15 p.m. for 3A.