“Any kid who wanted to go to state was going to have to wrestle better than they had all season to make it. (Stewart) stayed focused and knew what he had to do. He had some close matches, but he wrestled pretty well.”
— Roman Gutierrez, Moffat County High School varsity wrestling head coach, about junior Garrett Stewart qualifying for the 4A state tournament.
Garrett Stewart struggled at times this wrestling season to return to the form he had a year ago when he was a state qualifier.
Stewart, the Moffat County High School varsity wrestling team’s only returning state qualifier this year, surprised his team and himself last season when he took fourth place at the regional meet and joined two seniors in Denver for state.
Despite problems this season, Stewart, an MCHS junior, wrestled his way to another fourth-place finish Saturday in the 4A regional tournament at Eagle Valley High School in Gypsum — the only Bulldog grappler to advance to the 4A state meet.
However, Stewart said he wasn’t surprised this time.
“It feels pretty good,” he said Monday. “I worked hard all season and I felt I deserved it.”
Stewart beat Glenwood Springs’ Arturo De La Cruz in the consolation bracket to advance to the third- and fourth-place match where he battled Delta’s Irvin Hernandez.
Hernandez beat Stewart, 9-4, earlier this season, but Stewart said he wrestled much better Saturday in a 4-3 loss.
“I felt I had him the whole match, but he got a takedown that beat me,” he said. “I think in the first match against him he was more in control, but (Saturday) I defended against him a lot better and I moved to get on top and in control.”
Bulldogs head coach Roman Gutierrez said he knew it would be tough to send one of his wrestlers to state this season with a young team.
But, he said Stewart stepped it up at the right time of the season.
“Any kid who wanted to go to state was going to have to wrestle better than they had all season to make it,” Gutierrez said. “(Stewart) stayed focused and knew what he had to do. He had some close matches, but he wrestled pretty well.”
Senior Jake Blevins was the only other Bulldog wrestler to place, taking fifth in the 160-pound weight class.
Gutierrez said all the top wrestlers in Blevins’ weight class were evenly matched.
“If Jake would have got a break in one spot, things may have gone differently,” he said. “He wrestled fairly well, he just fell short against the Palisade kid and that was someone he needed to beat to get (to state).”
Despite Blevins not making it to state, Gutierrez said his only senior wrestler this year finished his career on a high note.
“Jake had a good year and wrestled well all year and he placed in the Warrior (Classic),” he said. “He had a few setbacks in his sophomore and junior years with a knee injury where he missed time, and those nagging injuries set you back. This year he was finally getting caught up, but we couldn’t pull it all together.”
The state tournament starts Thursday at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
Stewart will battle the No. 2 seed in his bracket, Josh Donkle of Windsor, in the opening round.
Gutierrez said Stewart would have to make his own breaks in the state tournament to advance.
Stewart said the experience from last year’s appearance and conditioning are going to be huge factors.
“Last year, I didn’t know what to expect and nerves got the best of me,” he said. “Conditioning is going to be very important because I am going to have to be able to go all three rounds with the same intensity if not more.
“I don’t think nerves will be a problem and I have been getting better all season with my conditioning.”
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