Basalt Longhorn wrestlers ready for challenge at state tournament | AspenTimes.com

Basalt Longhorn wrestlers ready for challenge at state tournament

While Basalt High School's William Rivera started wrestling in the fifth grade, it took BHS coach Ryan Bradley a few extra years to convince Oswaldo Morales to do the same.

Even as a freshman, Morales still was tussling with the idea of playing basketball instead. Now, the BHS juniors will compete in the state wrestling tournament for the first time beginning Thursday, and becoming a wrestler has never made so much sense.

"It's just awesome to watch these guys grow and change from being little middle schoolers to now being both two big guys," Bradley said. "These guys are two of the most dedicated guys we have."

The state wrestling tournament takes place Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the Pepsi Center in Denver. Morales (31-7 record) will compete in Class 3A's heavyweight bracket, while Rivera (18-19) will compete at 195 pounds.

Both wrestlers took fourth at regionals over the weekend in Buena Vista, with only the top four qualifying for state. They each took sixth at regionals a year ago; only senior Olmer Marquez (220 pounds) qualified for state out of Basalt in 2016.

"My freshman year I went to watch Olmer Marquez wrestle, but it's going to be a whole different beast on the mat instead of watching from the stands," Morales said. "I don't have many expectations. I don't want to overthink things. I'm just looking to go out there and do as much as I can."

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Morales will face Manitou Springs wrestler Julian Sanchez (30-3) in the first round Thursday. Sanchez was a state semifinalist a year ago, falling to the eventual state champion, Mullen's Sam deSeriere, who is back as the top seed this week.

Rivera has an even tougher draw. He will face Alameda senior Fabian Estrada (30-2), the top seed in 3A's 195-pound bracket.

"At first I was kind of shocked, but after a while, I realized to beat the best you need to wrestle the best," Rivera said. "It's going to be a very great experience for both of us."

Rivera separated his shoulder earlier in the season, an injury he had to battle through at regionals. He said the adrenaline during competition helped, although the pain returned after each match.

He expects to deal with much the same at state.

"Anything can happen in a wrestling match. That's why we wrestle," Bradley said. "It will be exciting. Worst case I think we can get a win or two on the backside."

Bradley, as well as both wrestlers, understands the difficult test that awaits them at state this week. Earning a podium during your first trip to the Pepsi Center is a monumental task, and while even earning a win or two would be a great step, there already is excitement building toward the team's promise next winter.

"Next year they will be back. They will have that state experience," Bradley said. "They will realize how close they are to the podium, and we think we will get that renewed effort out of these guys. They are always hard workers, but when you realize you are getting close to something, sometimes that triggers something a little bit more."

acolbert@aspentimes.com