Going to the 4A state wrestling tournament isn’t as much about winning as it is experience for Moffat County High School sophomore Garrett Stewart.
For starters, Stewart said he never expected to make it this far in only his second year of varsity wrestling.
“I want to gain experience for when I return to the meet in the future,” he said. “I want to compete and push the kids I wrestle as best I can.”
Unranked going into the 4A western regional tournament Feb. 11 and 12, Stewart beat a stronger senior to earn the right to wrestle for third and fourth place.
After finishing fourth, Stewart again was challenged for his state spot by the fifth-place finisher.
When the weekend was over, Stewart had punched his ticket for the state tournament in Denver.
“I had confidence in myself,” Stewart said. “If you tell yourself you are going to lose, you will. You have to push through the fatigue and the pain.”
Bulldogs head coach Roman Gutierrez said Stewart turned it on when it counted most.
“Garrett (Stewart) had a good tournament when guys are supposed to,” Gutierrez said. “He had a couple of tough kids in a tough weight class that he beat.”
Gutierrez said Stewart is proof wrestlers need to keep pushing to win matches.
“You never know what is going to happen in a match,” he said. “I try to teach my wrestlers it always starts 0-0.”
Stewart said he started wrestling when he was young, around second grade, because the sport ran in his family.
His older brother, Todd Stewart, wrestled for MCHS before he graduated in 2006, and Stewart said he has cousins and uncles who have placed in the state meet from Meeker.
Still, Stewart said he wasn’t very good when he started.
“I had potential, but I wasn’t good at all,” he said. “I didn’t really understand the moves we were learning.”
As he progressed through pee wee wrestling, middle school and into high school, Stewart said the parts of his abilities that have improved the most are his shots.
“I always had a fear of shooting when I was younger,” he said. “I got over that fear as I got older and have continued to work and get stronger at my shots.”
With help from his family, Stewart said he has improved each year.
In high school, Stewart said Todd used the cradle effectively, a move he has helped him perfect.
When he sees his cousins from Meeker, they help him with conditioning.
“Someone who has family who knows wrestling definitely has the upper hand,” Stewart said. “My family started teaching me at a very young age.”
As Stewart keeps improving, he said he passes his knowledge of the sport on to his younger brother, Anthony, who is now competing in pee wee wrestling.
For his first match Thursday, Stewart drew a wrestler who placed first in a different 4A region.
While he admitted it would be a tough match, Stewart said he wouldn’t be nervous going into his first state tournament.
“I know he has lost nine matches, so he is beatable,” he said. “I am not going to underestimate him, but I won’t psych myself out either.”
Stewart said his ultimate goal is to place in the state meet.
To reach that goal, he said he would continue to work on all areas including strength and conditioning.
“Strength is something I can work on for sure,” he said. “But, I also run a lot, even outside of practice, so I will continue to expand my stamina.”