Lopez, Samuelson repping the Basalt Longhorns at state wrestling in Denver
Ruben Samuelson has only a single loss this season. Ernesto Lopez is a regional champion who’s been to the big dance before. Both will represent the Basalt High School wrestling team this weekend in the Class 3A state tournament with legitimate hopes of making it to Saturday’s championship matches at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
“I know everyone who goes to state is good and no matter what you can’t downplay anything. Just having that experience for sure helps,” Lopez said. “So no matter what, any match I just have to give it my all. I know I’m capable of making the finals and hopefully winning it.”
BHS is looking for its first state champion in quite a while. The program returned for the 2012-13 season after a 10-year hiatus and has had a good run in that span, including a fourth-place finish from 220-pounder Olmer Marquez in 2015. Marquez had been the team’s only regional champion since its return under coach Ryan Bradley until Lopez won this past weekend.
According to Bradley, Basalt’s wrestling history was quite impressive prior to the decade-long layoff, a history that includes five individual state champions.
“We are always looking for it,” Bradley said of the team’s next state champ. “We thought Olmer was going to be that first guy to wrestle on Saturday night. These two guys, they might be pretty close to getting there.”
SAMUELSON EXPLODES ONTO THE SCENE
A 170-pound junior, Samuelson goes to class at Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale but wrestles for Basalt. He came up just short of making state as a sophomore, but has come a long way since then. He’s 37-1 this season, his lone loss coming via a 6-0 decision to Alamosa senior Hunter Smith in the regional final Saturday.
Bradley said Samuelson is the first BHS wrestler since the program returned — it’s in its eighth season back — to have won every one of his individual tournaments prior to regionals.
“His mental approach to it and his physical approach to it, he seems to be doing all the things right,” Bradley said. “He figured some things out. He’s a lot better than he was last year and he’s not as good as he’ll be next year.”
Samuelson credits his summer training for his improvement. He attended an intensive 14-day wrestling camp at Oregon State University and his success this winter is proof of the work he put in there.
“That pretty much taught me everything I needed to know,” Samuelson said. “I go into my matches and I think if I work my hardest and I do my best there is really nothing else I can give. That takes away the nervousness. It just helps me compete.”
Samuelson’s loss in the regional final doesn’t seem to bother him. Bradley has gone over the tape with him and they believe he’s learned from the experience. Should Samuelson have to face Smith, who is 41-6, at the state tournament this weekend, it wouldn’t be until the championship match.
“I learned a lot of moves from that match. I learned what I need to know in my next one in order to win if we meet up again,” Samuelson said. “I feel confident and then I feel a little nervous at the same time. But I just got to keep going out there thinking if I give 100%, whatever happens, happens, and there is really nothing else I can do.”
Samuelson will face Jefferson senior Randy Duran (31-8) in the first round Thursday in Denver. Duran is a returning state qualifier, having gone 0-2 in the 170-pound bracket last season. Eaton’s Ty Garnhart is the reigning 3A champ at 170 pounds, although he graduated last year.
“He’s one of the other guys that kept motivating me,” Lopez said of Samuelson. “We motivated each other all season long and I know he’s going to do big things in the future. He for sure has a good chance at placing this year and I know he will.”
LEARNING FROM THE BEST
Lopez, a senior heavyweight, credits much of his success this season to Marquez. The former regional champion returned to the mat this winter as a volunteer assistant coach and gave Lopez another big body to train against.
“Him kicking my butt is what I needed and him knowing as a big guy what works and what doesn’t work helps out so much,” Lopez said. “He’s for sure a big, strong man. It motivates me to beat him. I’ve had him a couple of times, but not that many.”
Lopez, who recently signed to play football for Western Colorado University, is 29-3 this season and has a favorable draw as one of the regional champions. All three of his losses came to the same person, Battle Mountain’s Jeremiah Vasquez, who is 36-1 this winter. Vasquez competes in Class 4A, so Lopez won’t run into him for a fourth time this weekend.
Lopez was 24-5 last season, his state championship bid ending in the first round with a loss to Alameda’s Carlos Flores (fall, 4:47). Lopez did beat Sterling’s Austin Garcia in his first playback match (fall, 1:38) before bowing out against Salida’s Juan Doyle (7-5 decision), who eventually finished fourth.
“It’s Erny’s second trip down. I think his first time down, he was super close last year,” Bradley said. “I feel pretty confident about his ability to make it to the semis on Friday night. And I feel really good about Ruben Samuelson, as well.”
Lopez will face La Junta senior Ryan Metzger (8-15) in the first round of 3A’s heavyweight bracket Thursday. University’s Emanuel Munoz-Alcala (38-1), the reigning state champion, would likely be Lopez’s challenger in the Saturday night finale should he get there.
“I’m feeling pretty good. I know every kid earned their right to be at the state tournament,” Lopez said. “We knew Olmer was going to come in and beat my butt a little bit, which I needed. So hands down he’s been one of the best coaches I’ve had in a while. He knows what I need to do.”
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