BAYFIELD – Gifting the opponents 18 forfeit points while receiving only one-third as many in return during the dual-deciding upper weights ending Thursday’s season-opening 3A/2A Intermountain League triangular, Montezuma-Cortez head wrestling coach Shad Bellmire knew his crew may have been just one cog from conquest.
“We had some mistakes and stuff that you’re going to have,” he said inside a nearly-empty Bayfield High School gymnasium following a 30-28 loss to the meet-hosting Wolverines (whom his Panthers briefly aided in rolling up sections of the mat after Alamosa had already departed, having handled M-CHS 58-12 and BHS 54-20), “but we’ve got it going.
“We were missing Abeyta today,” Bellmire noted, referring to 2020 Class 3A State Championships-qualifying 145-pounder Anthony Abeyta, now a senior, “and he’s a horse for us, but it’s given us a target of what we’ve got to go at. I mean, it’s going to be a short season, there’s things we can improve on, so we’ve just got to get back to the drawing board and get at it!”
M-CHS wrestler Austin Featherman, who rallied out of a 4-0 hole in the first period to earn a second-period pin victory against Bayfield’s James Mars at 138 pounds to give the Panthers a 22-6 lead at the time, said Thursday’s meet was about knocking off rust.
“Haven’t been able to get back into it for a long time having this COVID and everything,” he said. “It’s weird having a season this short and everything, so we’re just adjusting and trying to make the most of it.”
Mars jumped up in weight to meet Featherman and was ready for the challenge.
“Featherman’s so stinking strong on top that if you get caught underneath him and go to your back it’s tough to fight out of that,” Wolverine coach Todd McMenimen said. “But James wanted that match; I’m glad to see him jump up and do that. James wanted to bump up a weight to wrestle him – there’s a little bit of history – and looked really good that first period.”
Though there were no spectators for the host Bayfield Wolverines and their proud wrestling program, 145-pounder Dylan Pickering, who racked up a 14-0 lead before earning a pin victory against the Panthers’ Wes Atcitty just 10 seconds into the second period, said he just happy to be back on the mat doing what he loves.
“Dylan’s really expanded his arsenal in the wrestling room; he’s not just a one-shot-tilt guy and that’s it,” McMenimen said. “That last match, he used the tilt a bunch, but he’s actually learned to use a lot of other things to help set up his tilt.
“You’ve got to have more in your bag than just one thing.”
Deegan Barnes (152) and Kobe Prior (160) followed Pickering with forfeit wins, putting Bayfield up 24-22 before M-CHS’ Hunter Goodall claimed six free points at 182 following an uncontested 170-pound division. Neither team sent out an entrant at either 195 or 220 pounds, and the Wolverines quietly nabbed the win with newcomer Jordan Sands stepping out unopposed at heavyweight.
Avery Mitzlaff also booked a forfeit win for BHS at 113 pounds, but early on Montezuma-Cortez had it going on.
Kael Buffington defeated young Keaton Pickering at 106 by 15-6 major decision, and after the 120-pound division passed by uncontested, Panther Ryan Pipkin, a near-miss state hopeful at 120 last winter, pinned Wolverine rookie Daxson Michaeli 1:06 into the second period at 126 pounds.
M-CHS’ Jayven Valdez then went up 4-1 on Bayfield’s Hunter Anderson after one period at 132 and polished off a pin with only one second remaining in the second to put M-CHS up 16-6 with Featherman eager to finish the tri 2-for-2, as he’d already pinned Alamosa’s Isaiah Avila 1:22 into the second period, booking M-CHS’ first points against the Mean Moose.
“Personally, I’ve still got a lot to work on,” said Featherman. “Especially with the season being so fast, I need to start off well, get those seeding points for regionals and be able to make it back to state; come home with some hardware this year.”
Pickering had also fared well against Alamosa, ranked No. 7 in On The Mat’s preseason 3A poll, with a 15-0 tech fall of Kodiak Rockcastle in an elapsed 2:58.
“I felt great, just doing what I love,” the elder Pickering said. “Whenever you’re wrestling, you just get into the moment, and it’s like nothing else even exists. That’s pretty much how it went.”
Mars hung on to secure a 9-6 win over Trevor Maestas at 132, getting Bayfield on the scoreboard after Alamosa authoritatively piled up 24 unanswered points out of the gate. Barnes would follow Pickering’s triumph by receiving a forfeit at 152, and Prior pinned Dante Gonzales 1:53 into the second period at 160 to bring BHS back to as close as 30-20 before three upper-weight vacancies and a James Sanchez second-period stick of Sands sewed up the opening dual.
“We’ll definitely work on bottom and try to score points from there; we didn’t see a whole lot of that tonight,” Prior said. “But the night was fun. I’ve been stuck wrestling these same (teammates in practice) and there’s nothing wrong with that, but competition’s just different when it’s against someone else.”
Goodall, a freshman, recorded the Panthers’ only other success against Alamosa, constructing a 7-0 lead through two minutes at 195 pounds and then pinning Benjie Tomas 0:28 into the second period.
“Hunter’s a big kid. Still learning stuff coming up from junior-high, so I think he’ll be someone to reckon with definitely down the road if he sticks with the program,” said Bellmire. “He’d be a beast by the time he’s a senior, I’m hoping.”
Or by this Saturday if possible; the Panthers will need all they can muster.
Slated to travel Jan. 30 to Pagosa Springs, M-CHS will next square off against both the powerhouse Pirates – ranked No. 1 in the aforementioned 3A poll – and Centauri (No. 2 in 2A) in an IML tri starting at 10 a.m.
“Yeah, we’re taking a big shot right here at the beginning, starting off hard,” Featherman said about facing Alamosa, Pagosa Springs and Centauri plus BHS within three calendar days. “But you’ve got to wrestle them at some point.”
“We’ve got a tough region, so us coaches have got our drawing boards out for sure,” said Bellmire. “Just the top two (individuals per weight at regionals) go to state, so we’ve got to get to the grindstone and do all we can, you know?”
Bayfield is also scheduled for action on Jan. 30 with a trip to Dove Creek against the 2A Bulldogs on deck.
“We’ve officially been in the room for a week and a half now,” said McMenimen. “We’re still trying to figure stuff out, got some young ones, and we just finished weight certifications yesterday. We’re still in a big learning curve, but to finally get out on the mat and wrestle true matches that matter and not just beat up on each other in the room is really good to see.
“We sit in the middle of the toughest region in 3A this year. We need to figure out how to wrestle with those kind of guys, and that started today.”
WHERE IS EVERYBODY: The Wolverines and Panthers couldn’t help but notice the venue was, save for meet-day personnel, more or less a void because of ongoing COVID-19 precautions. However, nobody really seemed to ponder the emptiness.
“When I’m on the mat, I feel like there’s no one in the stands either way,” said Prior, another returning state qualifier for BHS. “That’s my coping mechanism, I guess.”
“And through headgear, you can’t hear anything anyways,” joked Pickering.
WELCOME TO THE SHOW: McMenimen could only grin when discussing Michaeli’s varsity debut. Not really because of the result (he lost by pin 0:45 into the first period), but the sheer luck of his draw: Alamosa’s Davion Chavez.
“Poor Daxson. First-ever high-school match and it was like, ‘Here you go! Throwing you into the fire!’” said McMenimen, alluding to Chavez’s state runner-up finish last season at 113 pounds. “Didn’t tell him beforehand that’s what he was up against, but I let him know afterwards,‘Don’t drop your head, don’t get worried about it; that was a big learning experience right there.’ Freshmen at this level, they’re going to have to go through some of that.”
SCHEDULE UPDATE: The Wolverines’ Feb. 2 dual at 2A Mancos – the third event on BHS’ abbreviated 2020-21 schedule – has been temporarily scrubbed.
“We’re going to have to postpone that one to another date,” said McMenimen. “I don’t know for sure when, but we’re going to try to catch that one a little later in the season.”