Depending on whom you ask, the enthusiasm among Columbine’s wrestling team members can waiver.
The team did take third place in its own Columbine Invitational, which they hosted on Dec. 13. But, some of the wrestlers’ youth does show through when they are questioned individually.
Cody Weitzel, a freshman who is undefeated this season at 103 pounds, has so much excitement that he can barely sit still. Senior RJ Gaither tries to play it cool and pretend that a return trip to state is just not that lofty of a goal and seems to be going with the flow (eating on the other hand seemed more important on Saturday). And, freshman newcomer Nick Hoffschneider at the 140-pound weight class, is a little awe-struck by being on varsity already.
“We are definitely young,” Columbine coach Coe Branch said. “We’ve got three freshmen in our lineup and nobody in the 152, 160’s. We have a few heavyweights and seem to be heavy on both ends, but just nothing in the middleweights. Talent-wise, we have some more talented wrestlers than we’ve had in a while.”
Weitzel, who won the 103 championship match with an 11-2 major decision over Keegan Stitchko of Mountain Vista, said he was a little shocked to remain unbeaten.
“I’m decent, but 13-0 … that’s surprising,” Weitzel said. “I was thinking about my goals all summer long and training hard. My goal is to place in the top-three in the state as a freshman.”
When asked how long he had been wrestling, the 14-year-old Weitzel said since he was four. His brother, who wrestled for four years at Pensacola Christian College in Florida, is who Weitzel said he looks up to.
“I grew up wrestling with him,” Weitzel added. “It was a lot of fun.”
Whether it was horsing around or for practice, it has helped Weitzel with his season. So far this year, he has seven pins, two technical pins, one major decision and three wins by forfeit.
Weitzel’s teammate, Gaither, who is only one of two seniors on the Rebels team this year, took third in invitational with a win over Chaz Glaser of Chatfield at the 135-pound weight class.
Gaither was a state qualifier last year but lost in the first round. He was the only qualifier for Columbine.
“The good thing about this team is that we feed off of each other,” Gaither explained between his bites of a protein bar. “When someone like Cody wins then someone else will win and then someone else and it just keeps us on a roll.”
That certainly happened on Dec. 13.
In the 112-pound class, Columbine’s Josh Chavez took third place. At 119, Chris Chavez placed fourth. Austin Walen placed second at 125 after he was pinned in 1:39 by David Ghebremeskel of Denver South in the championship match. Columbine’s Ben Rhodes took third at 125.
At 171, Jason Trojan took third and at 285, Joe Verwys placed 4th.
Cody Naeb won the title at 215 with a pin in 59 seconds over Ibraham Frawan of Eaglecrest. With Naeb’s victory, the Rebels finished with 109.5 points for the third place spot. Mountain Vista won team honors with 171 points and Eaglecrest took second with 122 points.
“Our main goal this year is to improve,” Branch said. “With our young guys we just want to get some good experience on varsity and get those sophomores and freshmen back in the lineup next year with good experience.”
And, Gaither hopes that his experience from the past can help propel him through this season.
“I’m going to try to shoot for the best that I can be,” he said. “When I lose, I just try to get over it. I want to win as much as I can, I hate losing. But, I don’t want to dwell on the past.”
A relaxed Gaither said that his overall goal for his senior year is to make it to state in all three of his sports. He finished 33rd in the cross-country state meet earlier this year. After wrestling season, he will head out on the track to run the 3,200-meter race.
“Our seniors are good leaders this year,” Branch said of Gaither and Jason Trojan. “I’m hoping they pave the way.”
One freshman who seems to look up to them is Hoffschneider. He is only in his second year of wrestling but made the varsity team with high hopes.
“It’s pretty cool to be on varsity,” Hoffschneider said. “I wrestled a little bit in fifth grade, but it was nothing like this.”
Columbine is counting on improvement this season and Saturday’s invitational should be the motivation that everyone needed after a 2-8 record in dual tournaments so far this year.
“Since we go in with no one in the 52, 60, or 89 we automatically start out down by 12 or so points,” Branch explained. “But, even with some forfeits in those we can depend on the talent we have in other spots. We’ve got a lot of it with these young guys.”
Chatfield placed sixth overall at the Columbine Invitational with 73 points. Dakota Thayer won the 119-pound championship with a 4-0 decision over Mountain Vista’s Steve Johnson. Thayer had two earlier wins over Matt Ritz of Eaglecrest (dec. 2-0) and Chris Chavez of Columbine (pin 1:36).