Denver - A battle between returning state champions was as close as you would expect it to be, but of the pitcher's-duel variety more than a slugfest.
Coronado junior Jess Hankin was unable to penetrate the defenses of Cherry Creek senior Mitch Finesilver, losing a 1-0 decision on an escape by Finesilver early in the third period.
Hankin surprised many in taking the 5A 113-pound championship a year ago. After his win he watched Finesilver beat his Coronado teammate for the 120 title. Competing at 126, the two friends, teammates and competitors squared off for the first time in their high school careers.
Hankin estimated that they've faced each other five times previously in youth competition, but their recent experience has been as teammates at the Mile High Wrestling club.
The grapplers spent the first period posturing with neither able to launch an effective shot on the other. Hankin (44-5) abandoned his usual attacking style for fear of countering by the technically sound Finesilver (47-1).
"With previous experience he's taken me down based off my style," Hankin said. "I should be more confident with it."
With choice of position to start the second period Hankin decided to go neutral, but was still unable to get off a shot. Finesilver chose the bottom position to open the third and quickly escaped for the bout's only point.
"The choice of going neutral, we thought we could get a takedown," Cougars coach Matt Brickell said. "He can ride. It would have been tough to get up (from bottom position). He did the right thing by keeping the match close.
"Finesilver gets so low, you gotta go crawl under the mat to get (inside). I'm glad he's a senior."
"He keeps it very well closed off and I wasn't able to shoot a lot of my shots I usually do," Hankin said.
Coronado assistant coach and former U.S. Olympian Ben Provisor pulled Hankin aside and reminded him that he can't win trying to wrestle someone else's style.
Hankin, despite the disappointment of losing, showed uncharacteristic composure and perspective afterward, noting that his ultimate goal is not to win a state title, but to be an Olympic champion; a dream that started years ago in a wrestling-mad family started by Hankin's paternal grandfather and former Olympic wrestler, Frank.
"The way I look at it is high school is a step in the learning curve," Hankin said. "I want to go a lot further than high school and everything in high school is a learning experience."
And so this latest learning experience didn't bring tears like it does for so many in the tunnels under Pepsi Center, just an adjustment to the game plan for next time.
"Be even more offensive," Hankin said with a smile. "Control matches more. Wrestle my style."