John Mall High School hopes to send 14 grapplers to state
by David Tesitor
WALSENBURG — In 2017, three Panthers claimed state titles, the most in any single year for a Panther team. Five made the finals, and as a result, the Panthers finished third at state, the highest ranking of any Panther team in their history. Seniors Jason Murphy and Jonathan Andreatta claimed gold, as did freshman Wesley ‘AJ’ Van Matre who won at 120 pounds. Marshall Ross, graduated in 2017, finished second, losing to Cody Venem (34-2) of Rocky Ford by a 9-3 decision. The team will enter the pre-season rankings at third.
The possibility to be Walsenburg’s first four-time champion rests with Van Matre who will wrestle at 138 pounds this season. He sees this as a powerful goal and has the style and the tenacity to meet that goal. He must first, however, get through this season, taking it one match at a time.
In the 2016-17 season, Van Matre was a late comer for the Panthers, following a football injury which sidelined him for the early season. Winning the region and entering state made him an unknown commodity as wrestling guru Tim Yount, who publishes ‘On the Mat’ didn’t have him placing at state. Van Matre, who finished the season with a 12-1 record, won a 6-3 decision over Brendyn Nordyke of Holly to claim the championship.
The Panthers hope to surpass last season’s record of nine state qualifiers with five in the finals since five previous qualifiers return for another run at state. If the Panthers remain healthy, regionals could yield a record 14 Panther state qualifiers, assuming they can fill every weight class. While the early season shows promise, there are no guarantees on the final weight classes being made until before the Christmas break.
Also returning for the 2017-18 season is sophomore Chris McKenna who finished the 2017 season with a 14-10 record. McKenna came on strong at the end of the season to qualify for state where he placed second, losing to four-time champion, Jacob Rodriquez of Rocky Ford.
Trystan Estrada (28-18) was a state qualifier, but did not place. Estrada, a senior, is hoping to return to state finals for the third time. He faced tough competition during his state experience and has yet to make it through the finals bracket. He hopes to end his career as a state placer this year.
Nick Griego, a junior, is another two-time state qualifier. He failed to wrestle his way through the brackets in 2017 and his hoping the 2017-18 wrestling season will be his year to stand atop the podium.
The final Panther who qualified for state and returns is heavyweight, Dylan Crump. Like his teammates, Crump hopes this season will be his. A two time qualifier, he had little trouble qualifying for state at the regional tournaments and should be a force to be reckoned with this year. Crump will need upper body strength to compete with heavyweights who are stronger and not weighing in at the 285 pound limit, many fast 221-285 pounders. At state in 2017, Crump went 1-2.
John Mall’s toughest competition will come early in the season. Out of the chute, they have a match at Del Norte tonight and a dual meet December 2 against Rocky Ford, who won state last year with 10 state placers including three state champions.
They will then travel to the western slope December 9 to wrestle in the Delta Invitational, meet-ing wrestlers they will not see again until state This will be a good test for the young team to go up against some of the best wrestlers in 2-4A classification.
The team’s annual Pete and Ina Gomez Invitational December 15 will close out the season before the holiday break, then the Panthers will be in Rio Rancho NM for the Cleveland Conflict January 4. This tournament traditionally includes the best schools from New Mexico and Texas. The many state champions competing there should provide a chance for the team to face their toughest opponents before state.
The final big tournament is in Alamosa the following week. Here, the team will once again face schools from 3-4A. Several other meets are in the Panther line-up which will ready the Cats for district andregional action.
Josh Vialpando, returning as Panther grappling coach, says several wrestlers coming up from middle school were champions in their own divisions.
The 2017-18 team will consist of DJ VanMatre (106 pounds), Travis Vialpando and Ricardo Bobian (113), Chris McKenna and Zander Ross (120), Miguel Sanchez, Mitchell Christian, Quinten Medina and AJ Sandoval (126), Anthony Aldretti (132), AJ VanMatre (138), Aaron Brothers (145), Trystan Estrada, Johnny D’Ambrosia and Isaiah Lucas (152), Nick Griego and Gavin Lunden (160), Caleb Rehm (170), Henry Quintana and Diovanni Williams (220) and Heavyweight Dylan Crump. There are no wrestlers at 195 and 220 pounds.