High school wrestling is a winter sport.
As a result, when the weather turns nasty, roads are snowpacked and passes are closed, Pagosa Pirate wrestlers find a way — any way — to get to their competition.
Unlike many sports teams that recoiled at the idea of traveling in last weekend’s winter storm conditions, the Pirates took off and made the trip to Grand Junction. They had to make the trip via Moab, Utah, but make it they did.
And, it’s a good thing: Not only was the wrestling at the tournament top caliber, but several Pirates placed high in the final standings at what has traditionally been one of the toughest pre-holiday events in Colorado.
Senior Joe DuCharme led the way, becoming only the second Pirate ever to win a Warrior title.
DuCharme, wrestling at 160 pounds, overwhelmed his opponents on his way to the title.
The Pirate senior took his first match, against Scott Kilrease of Grand Junction Central, with a fall at 1 minute, 21 seconds.
In his second outing, DuCharme scored a 20-5 technical fall over Brandon Franz of Montrose, at 4:05.
In his closest match of the tourney, in the semifinal, DuCharme won with a 16-3 major decision over Dano Fugita, of Rifle.
The championship went to the Pirate as he scored a win by fall over Matt Sunkees, of Uintah, Utah, at 1:40.
“It was as dominating a performance at that tournament as I have seen,” said Pirate Coach Dan Janowsky. “Joe’s closest match was a 16-3 major decision. He’d jump out to big leads in his matches and just keep hammering. He was clearly the class of that weight, and I think the class of the tournament.”
Senior Mike Smith, still on his way back to top form following an ankle injury, took third at the Warrior at 171.
Smith began by pinning Kiefer Deere, of Rifle, at 1:08.
A second win by fall came over Marcus Hunsberger, of Farmington, at 3:02.
Fall number three: at 1:13, over Bryce Thurston, of Chapparal.
Smith’s only defeat at the Warrior happened in the semifinals — a 7-5 decision at the hands of the eventual second-place finisher, Tom Thoman, of Green River, Wyo.
Coming back in the consolation semifinal, the Pirate took a 13-4 decision from Aaron Heredia, of Monte Vista, then captured third with a 7-2 victory over Nick Urban, of Roosevelt.
“Mike looked very powerful most of the time,” said Janowsky. “He’s still working through the effects of the injury — his technique is a little rusty, his takedown techniques a little off. But, he had a couple takedown chances in that semifinal and he wrestled very poised when he got tired.”
Steven Smith took fourth place in a tough field at 112.
The senior nailed a 20-10 win over Kyle Rogers of Montrose to start the tourney.
A win by fall over Larry Schumueser at 1:34 of the action put Smith in a match with Gabe Gomez, of Broomfield,. Gomez got the 7-3 win and sent Smith to the consolation bracket.
Smith began with a win by fall at 4:01 over Joey Duran, of West Jordan, Utah.
He then faced a former state champion in the person of Rocky Mountain’s Jeremy Schmidt. Smith got the 2-1 decision to stay alive.
A win by fall at 2:24 over Anthony Guillen of Grand Junction put Smith in a battle for third place — a rematch with Gomez, who got the 7-4 decision.
“Steven is really maturing as a wrestler,” said Janowsky. “He had to wrestle a state champion in the kid from Rocky Mountain and it came down to a matter of determination at the end. He cut the kid loose, gave him a point, then kept attacking until he got the takedown and the win.”
Several other Pirates earned team points at the tournament, helping forge Pagosa’s 15th-place finish in a field of 32 teams — 27 of them from Class 4A and 5A schools. (The only 3A teams finishing ahead of the Pirates were Grand Valley — last year’s 2A state team champs and now a 3A school — and Olathe. Pagosa finished 1/2 point behind Grand Valley and 8 1/2 points behind Olathe.)
Dakota Miller was 2-2 at 125, getting a fall over Derick Burch of Olathe at 3:41 and a 6-5 decision over Casey Abeyta, of Pueblo South. The win over Abeyta saw Miller come from behind and get the winning takedown with four seconds left in the match.
Caleb Pringle was 2-2 at 130. Pringle got a 16-6 win over Ty Davis, of Farmington, and a 10-8 decision over Nathan Trujillo of Delta.
Waylon Lucero earned points at 145, pinning Daryosh Afshar of Farmington, at the 2:38 mark.
“Dakota Miller is showing improvement every time out,” said the coach. “He has a very good wrestling sense and he is learning all the time. Caleb Pringle got two, hard-fought wins for us and I am real pleased with his progress.”
From the start this season, Janowsky has made it clear that his team is liable to be more effective in a tournament than in a dual meet — at least in the early going. Now, the coach looks forward to building on the successes at the Warrior, in preparation for competition after the new year.
“There are a lot of things we can do with individuals on the team, and things we can do with our lineup to get better. We are not through with making changes. The Warrior was one of the best performances we’ve had there and, even with some of our guys who didn’t place, we were in a lot of matches. It improved our standing as far as how others look at us.”
The Pirates take a break until practice resumes Jan. 2. The team travels to Durango Jan. 8 to dual the Demons, returns home for the Rocky Mountain Duals (with Espanola Valley, Air Academy and Widefield) on Jan. 9, then hosts the 14-team Rocky Mountain Invitational the next day.