Colorado schools take center stage
Rocky Mountain competition could underscore championship
Here's a month in the life of Colorado's Division II wrestling programs:
Ninth-ranked Adams State wins at No. 18 Western State. ASU falls to Colorado Mesa a day later. CMU also picks up a victory against Western State, which owns a win against Division I Air Force. Colorado State-Pueblo beats Colorado Mesa.
On Thursday, Colorado Mesa wrestles at Adams State. Which team sends the best squad to the mat depends on the day of the week.
"I don't pay much attention to national rankings," CSU-Pueblo head coach Dax Charles said. "We have teams that compete at all levels; a lot of good kids. Right now it is very competitive [in Colorado]. There are good days and bad days and everybody is pretty close."
|Colorado School of Mines||1965|
|Northern Colorado||1992, 1996, 2001|
|Colorado State-Pueblo||1994, 1998, 2012|
CSU-Pueblo has made huge strides in a short amount of time. Just three years after hosting the 1998 Division II Championships, the wrestling program was cut due to budget constraints. Charles, an assistant coach then, returned as head coach when wrestling was brought back three seasons ago.
In March, the 2012 Division II Championships return to Pueblo, Colo.
"It's been a challenging task," Charles said. "We were fortunate to get the Championships back here. I know everybody is excited about hosting again."
Division II Championships have been held in Colorado six times -- Colorado School of Mines, located in Golden, hosted in 1965; Northern Colorado in Greeley hosted in 1992, 1996 and 2001; Pueblo hosted in 1994 and 1998.
Western State won DII team titles in 1963 and 1964, the first two years of the Division II national tournament. The Mountaineers made another run a year ago, finishing sixth behind individual national champion Donovan McMahill, finalist Charlie Pipher and third-place finisher Charlie Alexander. Colorado School of Mines was a runner-up in 1964 and Northern Colorado, now a member of Division I, was a national runner-up in 1969.
"There are some die-hard wrestling fans in Colorado," Western State coach Miles Von Hee said. "And there are plenty of opportunities to wrestle in the state with five Division II schools. I don't know if the kids in the state are overlooked but part of that is because they don't always go out and represent themselves nationally. [Joe] LeBlanc [at Wyoming], right now, is out there and some other guys. I do think we are closing the gap.
"I know within the state it is very competitive. You can look at the parity of RMAC [Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference] and see that. Adams State is certainly a team that is in the picture nationally but you can say that about a lot of [Colorado] teams right now. It's not just five making a run, there are a lot of pretty salty teams out there this year."
The national rankings show five Adams State wrestlers among the top 8. Colorado School of Mines has three and CSU-Pueblo has a pair.
"Between duals and tournaments, there is a big difference," said Von Hee, a three-time Colorado state champion. "It always comes down to matchups [in duals]. If you've got four or five solid guys then anything can happen. In a tournament, like Arizona State last year, they didn't win very many duals but at the end when you have two champions you are near the top.
"[The Division II Championships] are going to be very competitive this year. And the fact that it is in Colorado makes it even better for our schools and our fans."
|DIVISION II WRESTLING CHAMPIONSHIP|
|2012 Venue Information|
Adams State, coached by another former Colorado high school star, Jason Ramstetter, is among those "salty" teams Von Hee speaks of. Luke McPeek, ASU's 197-pounder and a two-time All-American, is 18-3 this season with two of the losses coming to Division I opponents. Josh Hensley, a native of Alamosa, Colo., is just 12-8 at 149 pounds but half of his losses are to DI wrestlers. A third member of the ASU squad, 125-pounder Jerry Huff, another native Coloradan, was a national qualifier in 2011. This season he is 15-2 with 15 consecutive victories heading into this week's competition. ASU 133-pounder Ryan Fillingame is 12-2, with both losses coming to Division I competition.
CSU-Pueblo hopes to have representatives on its home mats. The squad's 133-pounder Jesse Hillhouse is 23-5, while 184-pounder Adam Carey is certainly an All-American threat.
Colorado School of Mines has 133-pounder Chad Lousberg, 157-pounder Steven Kelly and 174-pounder Jordan Larsen as contenders.
"I remember Dave Vondy telling me his freshman year that he was winning nationals," Von Hee said. "The wheels start turning when the kids know where the national tournament is going to be. This year is a bit different because it was awarded so late. But you see it every year, somebody we don't expect does something at the end."
Vondy, a native of Brush, Colo., won a national title in 2001. The host? Northern Colorado.
The Division II Championships are set for March 9-10 in Pueblo, Colo.