Ron Sukle remembers the images well. Two years ago, Coronado won its first 5A state wrestling title as its team carried off coach Matt Brickell on its shoulders. Last year, Pine Creek completed a long quest by hoisting a state trophy of its own.
Starting Thursday, Sukle, the sixth-year Discovery Canyon coach, hopes his Thunder can add to the recent trend of state titles to Colorado Springs programs when the 78th CHSAA state wrestling tournament convenes at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
“It’s been fun watching other schools win state for Colorado Springs, and it’s been good for the city,” Sukle said, moments after watching his squad claim the 4A Region 1 title on its home mats Saturday. “Many years ago, Colorado Springs wasn’t very good in wrestling. We’ve gotten a lot better.
“For us, it’s been a long quest, six years of building, and we’ve finished third the last two years. We’re going to try and give it our best shot.”
The Thunder will send nine qualifiers to the Pepsi Center mats, two fewer than the past two years, when they watched Windsor win the crown both years. And as far as personnel goes, Windsor is tops again, qualifying a tournament-high 12 wrestlers for the state tournament. Broomfield, the 4A runner-up in 2011, brings 11, while Thompson Valley qualified nine.
Quality over quantity suits Sukle and the Thunder just fine. Seven of the nine Discovery Canyon wrestlers earned seedings in the top half of their respective brackets. Two-time defending 4A state champion AJ Rees, a senior, tops the field in the 120-pound weight class after a 31-1 season. Junior Adrian Mack, runner-up at 170 pounds last year, earned the top seed in the same weight class as he seeks his first state crown and, ultimately, a team banner in the Thunder wrestling room.
“Man, just thinking about that gives me chills,” said Mack, who claimed the region title with an overtime takedown of Air Academy’s Caleb Cuneio. “I can visualize us doing it. We’ve worked hard. I want our team to win, and I’d like to contribute by winning a state title.”
Senior Steve Turner, who won the title at 120 pounds last year, is ranked sixth at 132 pounds, while juniors Tyler Oberg and David Traynor enter the tournament seeded second at 145 and 195 pounds, respectively.
Turner’s younger brother, Sam, went 32-5 in the 106-pound weight class and earned a No. 3 seeding. Other Thunder wrestlers headed to state are seniors Keaton Regenor, seeded 10th at 126 pounds; Jeff Burbach, 11th at 152; and Ricky Ray, eighth at 160.
“I don’t know what to expect, but this year has been great and exciting,” Sam Turner said. “The guys in the room keep me in check. As for state, there’s no real way to keep the nerves down. I just have to embrace it.”
The Thunder embraced a demanding schedule with hopes of an edge in toughness and experience heading into this weekend. They went head-to-head with Pine Creek, Pueblo South and Windsor, among others. Discovery Canyon beat Coronado at the renowned Southwest High School Duals in Rio Rancho, N.M. And the Thunder became the first 4A school in eight years to win the Colorado Springs Metro League wrestling team title.
“If you have a tough schedule, you’re put in tough situations, and in the end, the state tournament is a tough situation,” Sukle said. “We believe when you put them in a tough situation, you can build the confidence to be tough in those situations.”
Added Traynor: “Beating Coronado and some of the top teams has given us a big boost in confidence. It let us know we’re the top guys to beat. Hopefully we can beat people at our strongest point.”