The state tournament kicks off Thursday. And with it plenty of first-round matches that will be extremely tight.
They also set the tone for anyone hoping to win that first-place medal. Lose, and you’re off to the consolation bracket. But win, and, well, you can continue to dream.
With that in mind, here are 14 first-round matches we’re excited to see (plus a couple others at the bottom because we couldn’t limit it).
106 pounds, 4A: Robby Warkentine (FAL) vs. Saige Gallardo (PEAST). Warkentine (25-14) took second at Region 3 last week. The unranked freshman has to push down the nerves against the No. 7 Gallardo (23-16), who took third at Region 4.
113 pounds, 4A: Brendan Byrnes (DCC) vs. Dilan Esparza (VPEAK). No. 10 Byrnes (29-10) gets No. 8 Esparza (29-8) to open the tournament with No. 4 Josh Nira likely waiting in the wings.
120 pounds, 4A: James Ruona (CC) vs. Matt Tobey (DCC). With five wrestlers in the bottom half of this bracket ranked in the top 10, there are few easy matches in the first round, and No. 4 Ruona (35-8) vs. No. 8 Tobey (24-7) might be the toughest.
126 pounds, 4A: Sam Blackmon (LP) vs. Kevin Hooks (CM). A promising freshman (Blackmon, 15-7) vs. a talented sophomore (Hooks, 26-16) battle here. Blackmon, No. 14 last week and fourth at Region 1, likely has an uphill battle against Hooks, No. 6 and Region 3 winner. The winner probably gets No. 4 Riley Prough in the quarters and last year’s 120 runner-up Jason Hanenberg in the semifinals.
132 pounds, 4A: Tucker McDowell (CC) vs. Zach Kennison (TV). As a senior, this will be the final go-round for McDowell (36-12). He went 0-2 at last year’s state meet with an incredibly challenging road. This time he comes in at No. 8 after placing second at Region 3 and gets No. 6 Kennison (33-9), third last week at Region 2.
138 pounds, 5A: KJ Kearns (COR) vs. Zack Szostak (DOH). The two 5A competitors were semifinalists on opposite sides of the COS Metros. Szostak (23-9) lost a 2-1 ultimate tiebreaker to Cheyenne Mountain’s Mike McFadden. Kearns (36-5) went on to beat McFadden 1-0 for the crown. The winner here has a strong chance to advance beyond the quarterfinals.
145 pounds, 4A: Hunter Williams (TV) vs. Steve Mattorano (CM). No. 3 Mattorano (17-6) finished second at Region 3, falling in the final to Zac Hanenberg. If he wants another shot at Hanenberg (it wouldn’t happen until the final) he’ll have to get past No. 8 Williams (31-13), third at Region 2.
152 pounds, 4A: Donovan Gonzales (PWEST) vs. Kitt Knisley (PR). Always fun to see a No. 6 vs. No. 7 matchup to start the tournament. Knisley (6th, 37-9) went third at Region 4, while Gonzales (7th, 16-10) took second at Region 1.
160 pounds, 4A: Zac Baker (CM) vs. Marcus Martinez (PSouth). You can look at this matchup two ways: 1. What an awesome opening bout pitting two guys ranked in the top six; or 2. How horrible that one of these guys has to lose this early. Baker was ranked No. 3, Martinez No. 6.
170 pounds, 4A: Ryan Weber (DCC) vs. Caleb Willis (WIND). Neither of these guys can worry about the fact that 5A 182-pound champ Garrett Niel is probably awaiting in the second round. No. 10 Weber (22-6) went third at Region 1, while No. 8 Willis (36-12) took second at Region 2.
182 pounds, 3A: Nathan Johns (TCA) vs. Tommy Bonds (STRAS). Had No. 2 Johns (35-4) been in a different region, he might not be matched up with No. 13 Bonds (19-8). But Johns took third at Region 4 after losing to No. 1 William Tyler in the semifinals. Bonds will have to figure out how to cope against his division’s second-ranked wrestler.
195 pounds, 4A: Deric Cruz (MR) vs. Andrew Transtrum (PC). The road out of the top half of the bracket isn’t easy. For Transtrum (31-11), he opens the tournament against the defending champion. For Cruz (33-9), he’s looking to rebound from last week’s loss in the Region 4 final. Including Cruz and Transtrum, the top half of the bracket includes seven of the top 10 wrestlers in the division.
220 pounds, 4A: Mike Teesdale (LOV) vs. David Kenner (FAL). No. 9 Kenner (28-18) won his final two matches at Region 3 to earn third place and a spot at state. He gets a chance to push into the quarterfinals against No. 7 Teesdale (12-8).
285 pounds, 4A: Jeff Flippen (VR) vs. Jose Lopez (NIW). Since cutting more than 50 pounds to get down to the 285 limit and opening the season 0-2, Flippen (8-4) has reeled off wins in eight of his last 10. After a bye in the first round at Region 1 last week, Flippen pinned all three opponents. He will have a chance to continue that hot streak against Lopez (20-19), a fourth-place finisher at Region 2.
Other matches to watch:
145 pounds, 3A: No. 7 Joshua Ramos (MZCZ, 28-12) vs. No. 9 Ty Addington (FLO, 38-4)
170 pounds, 5A: No. 5 Cody Stalder (F-FC, 34-10) vs. No. 11 Steven Doyle (RM, 25-11)
220 pounds, 2A: No. 9 David Nance (YUMA, 10-10) vs. No. 12 Avery Whitlock (ELL, 24-7)
220 pounds, 4A: No. 4 Deonte Bridges (CM, 25-4) vs. No. 10 Wesley Buford (PALI, 25-10)
• All rankings are according to last week’s On the Mat Rankings by Tim Yount. All records and tournament results are according to trackwrestling.com.