Published: February 18, 2014
Jess Hankin of Coronado and Andrew Register of The Classical Academy know the feeling of standing on the top step of the podium at the state wrestling tournament.
And while each holds the title of defending champion, both will start new roads in different weight classes when the state meet starts its three-day run Thursday at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
Hankin, a junior, won last year's 5A crown at 113 pounds but now is competing at 126. Meanwhile, Register claimed the 3A title in the 138-pound division but moved up to 145 pounds for his senior season.
"I definitely feel more confident going into state this year since I've been there," Hankin said. "Now, it's where I just want to perform and do my best. I just have to wrestle defensively where no one can score on me, and score when I need to score. At state, you have to wrestle smart the whole time."
Up two weight classes, Hankin, ranked No. 3 in the final On the Mat rankings, sits on the other end of the bracket from top-ranked Mitch Finesilver of Cherry Creek, last year's state champ at 120 pounds.
Incidentally, Finesilver beat Hankin's teammate, then-senior Adrian Cordova, in last year's championship.
"Jess is very determined, and I don't think there is any pressure on him," Cougars coach Matt Brickell said. "He's more of an underdog with Finesilver ranked No. 1 all year. I like that position better than having the pressure of being No. 1 all year."
For Register, he enters the tournament as the No. 1 seed at 145 pounds, also holding the top 3A spot in the On the Mat rankings.
It's a long way from where Register started the season, heavier and banged up from the school's historic run to the state semifinals.
"He had a blast with the football team, but he was dealing with a knee injury and started the wrestling season at 152 pounds," Titans coach Sean Collins said. "With that injury, we got him focused on recovering and getting better, rather than thinking about only repeating as state champion. That way, he could peak at the right time."
Both wrestlers are among large contingents at this weekend's meet. While Hankin was one of seven Cougars to qualify for the 5A division, Register and eight of his teammates will wrestle in Denver, the most in school history.
Register's move down to 145 paved the way for sophomore Sam Raphael to clinch his first state berth at 152 pounds.
"I wanted to get right back into the swing of things, but coach (Sean Collins) told me to take two weeks off to let me recover," Register said. "That was huge for me and kept my desire to be on the mat. I did a lot of wrestling after Christmas, and since then, I'm rolling, and I feel like I'm at the top of my game."