Bulldog beasts: Moffat County wrestling to send 5 to state, including 1 regional champion
With nearly their full roster seeing the latter half of the 3A Region 1 Tournament, the Moffat County High School wrestling program was not hurting for awards Saturday afternoon in Montrose.
And, while some of those ribbons bore numbers the Bulldogs might have wished were a little different, several of them can’t complain.
Especially the one who took home the big hardware.
In a third place team finish, MCHS placed 11 of its 12 varsity grapplers in the top six of their weights at regionals. Of those 11, five athletes made the cut for the 3A CHSAA State Championships, including freshman Kaden Hixson, who won the 106-pound class altogether.
Hixson went undefeated during the weekend, with his 3-0 run ending with a second period pin of Gunnison’s Jared Van Hee in the finals.
Hixson won all of his regional bouts by fall — including a semifinal fight to the finish with Alamosa’s Kyler Liddell — but the championship round didn’t go his way immediately as Van Hee took command with an early takedown.
“I’m always kind of a little nervous in the first period, but then I get myself in the match,” he said.
Hixson responded forcefully late in the opening period, and the two were tied at 4 heading into the second. From there, the young Bulldog only had to find the right time to take the pin as family cheered loudly from the sidelines.
While a win in the semis ensured that he would qualify for state regardless of the outcome of the finals, Hixson said he knew he still needed a champion mentality.
“It was just about how bad I wanted it,” he said.
At the lightest weight, Hixson was the first of his teammates to step up in the finals but hardly the last.
A successful morning in the semifinals put three more Dogs in the running for a regional crown as Caden Call (113), Anthony Duran (120) and Daniel Caddy (152) all advanced to the championship round.
With all three ready to make a statement heading into state, the results turned out a little differently than they’d hoped.
Call quickly ran into trouble against Alamosa’s Davion Chavez, the top seed in the weight for a reason.
As the sophomore Bulldog and the junior Mean Moose tussled, Chavez kept driving up his score as Call did his best to respond.
Chavez had Call practically in pin position in the final seconds of the match, but a good amount of struggling on Call’s part forced the referees to end the round with one second to go, giving Chavez a technical fall at 18-2.
After placing third at regionals a season earlier, Duran was already a step up this time around and ready to go for the gold, sporting a head of newly christened peroxide blonde hair.
However, he was up against an opponent in a gold singlet, Pagosa Springs’ Erik Wyman, whose top seed in the tourney showed he meant business.
The Pirates’ eventual team title didn’t hurt either…
Wyman didn’t quite earn as many points for the group tally as he could have, but like Chavez, a massive lead in points let him take the tech over Duran at 16-1.
As a defending regional champ, Caddy was eager to add another plaque to his collection.
However, Pagosa’s Cameron Lucero had other ideas.
Wearing a shoulder harness didn’t help the senior Bulldog much, nor did it hurt him, though he struggled to keep Lucero from earning multiple takedowns in a loss by 10-1 major decision.
Though disappointed by only his second loss of the season, Caddy shrugged off the defeat knowing his spot at state is still secure.
Put the hurt on ’em
The fifth and final member of the team to move on to state is 160-pounder Pepper Rhyne, who entered regionals as the Bulldogs’ only No. 1 seed, only to be pinned by Pagosa’s Dustin Clark with 12 seconds remaining in the semifinals.
Rhyne pinned Alamosa’s Brooks Anderson in the subsequent round, which automatically put him into the consolation finals to fight for third place.
As it happened, Anderson won the ensuing fifth-place match, which would do little to help him after losses to both Rhyne and Bayfield’s Kobe Prior, who was also going up against the Bulldog in the pursuit of bronze.
Rhyne and Prior’s prior wins secured state hopes for both of them, but spectators may have to wait a week — or never know — to see how a full match between the two would play out.
Rhyne got Prior off his feet for a powerful takedown that may have been a bit too much as the Wolverine was slow to get back in business after landing on his neck.
Though Prior was deemed OK, Rhyne was penalized for the move, and Bayfield coaches took the option for a win by injury default.
If not thrilled about receiving fourth place, Rhyne had no gripes about getting to state after being eliminated from the conversation quickly during last year’s regional event.
Weight — Wrestler, season record; tourney record, placement
106 — Kaden Hixson, 38-4; 3-0, 1st
113 — Caden Call, 30-10; 2-1, 2nd
120 — Anthony Duran, 26-13; 2-1, 2nd
126 — Dario Alexander, 5-15; 3-2, 5th
132 — Blake Juergens, 18-11; 4-3, 5th
138 — Dagan White, 18-14; 2-3, 6th
145 — Taylor Coleman, 3-15; 1-2
152 — Daniel Caddy, 29-2; 2-1, 2nd
160 — Pepper Rhyne, 31-9; 2-2, 4th
170 — Michael Voloshin, 20-10; 0-3, 6th
182 — Billy Lawton, 14-13; 3-2, 5th
195 — Daniel Cruz, 10-21; 1-3, 6th
— The team placed third overall and qualified five for state.
Go fourth and fight
While the previous loss rule worked in Rhyne’s favor, fourth place remained out of reach for several of the Bulldog bunch.
A loss by pin in the semifinals of back brackets would be a deciding factor for Dario Alexander in the 126 class, as Cortez’s Austin Featherman moved onto the consolation finals.
Ultimately, Alexander no longer had a shot at state with losses to both Featherman and Alamosa’s Trevor Maestas in the tourney.
But, that only made him want fifth place more, as he stepped up against Pagosa’s Chandler Mazur. A solid skirmish saw the Bulldog up in points early before the Pirate responded, but Alexander held on for the win by decision at 11-7.
After placing second at regionals in 2019, fellow senior Dagan White (138) also looked for one final chance at state and a wrestle-back for fourth place.
First, he had to win the fifth-place match, and a pairing with Glenwood Springs’ Erik Krauth didn’t bode well after Krauth’s defeat of White early in the tourney.
The rematch didn’t go much better for White, who fought from behind throughout the bout, bringing the total to 5-4 by the end of it as Krauth claimed victory and went on to a state slot by defeating Steamboat Springs’ Tucker Havel 3-2 for fourth.
Freshman Billy Lawton had better luck in his final, fifth place round of the 182 class, taking Basalt junior Jose Castorena by surprise midway through the action and pinning the Longhorn.
Lawton’s luck was short-lived, though, as an earlier loss to Alamosa senior Zeke Rangel in the consolation semis meant the Moose’s third place loss wouldn’t put state in jeopardy.
In a small 170 bracket bristling with older talent, Michael Voloshin was overwhelmed by upperclassmen, fighting for fifth against Delta’s Jeffery Griffith and defeated by fall.
Daniel Cruz likewise didn’t have much chance at state’s 195 class with earlier defeats ruling him out of a wrestle-back for fourth, though a loss to Kaden McKee of Pagosa relegated him to sixth place.
Still, of all the Bulldogs’ hopes for fighting back into fourth place, no one came closer than Blake Juergens.
After experiencing a loss to Ben Koch of Delta early in regionals, Juergens had his hand raised automatically for fifth place as Koch was forced to forfeit.
That meant Juergens was still alive in the 132 brackets, paired with Rifle’s Talon Cordova, who fell in the consolation finals to Alamosa’s Colton Liddell, who was fresh off a defeat of Juergens a round before.
Both the Bulldog and the Bear were determined to see state, and though Cordova’s right arm was heavily padded following an injury earlier in the month, he put up a fight.
Juergens led for the majority of the match, until a shocking reversal by his Rifle opponent unexpectedly put him on the defensive.
With precious little time to make up the difference, Juergens took the defeat 8-7 to stay in fifth place.
MCHS wrestlers Hixson, Call, Duran, Caddy and Rhyne will travel to Denver for the 3A CHSAA State Championships Feb. 20 to 22.
Craig Press will have a larger recap.
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