The Gazette Upper Weights Wrestler of the Year: Justin Petrash, Air Academy

March 29, 2014 Updated: March 29, 2014 at 5:35 pm
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photo - Air Academy's Justin Petrash celebrates his win against Rifle's Jose Prado in the 285 pound quarterfinals of the 4A Colorado Wrestling State Championships Friday, February 21, 2014 at the Pepsi Center. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette
Air Academy's Justin Petrash celebrates his win against Rifle's Jose Prado in the 285 pound quarterfinals of the 4A Colorado Wrestling State Championships Friday, February 21, 2014 at the Pepsi Center. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette 

Justin Petrash didn't enjoy his final fall season at Air Academy.

He made up for it during the winter sports season.

"Football didn't go as successfully as I wanted," said Petrash, a lineman whose Kadets squad struggled in a winless football campaign. "I sprained both ankles after the first two games, and I wasn't able to compete the way I wanted to. When wrestling came around and I was healed up, it was go time."

Petrash won 37 of 40 matches in the heavyweight division, capping his high school career with a 5-0 victory over Broomfield's Austyn Harris in the state final.

In four bouts at the Pepsi Center, Petrash didn't yield a single point. In defending his regional championship the weekend before, he didn't display that type of dominance, riding out Harris 3-2 in the final.

So Petrash went back to work.

"All week, I was working on getting better in the top position," Petrash said. "At regionals, I was letting kids go, and that was getting them points. So I really made a point in practice to work hard to fix that."

At the 4A tournament in 2013, Petrash won his first two matches before getting pinned in the semifinals, then had to settle for fourth place.

The 6-foot, 250-pound Petrash cranked up the intensity heading into his final season, recommitting himself to simply work harder than anyone else.

That meant not missing one practice.

"To me, the more you put into practice, the more you get out of it," Petrash said. "If I wasn't at practice, someone below me in the rankings was."

So when Petrash saw his name at the top of the heavyweight division in the season's first On the Mat rankings, he became more focused on carrying, and keeping, that top billing.

"I knew that target was going to be on my head," Petrash. "I love being No. 1. For some people, they might not want that kind of pressure. It motivated me more, I think."

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