‘Not thinking, just wrestling’: 6 Routt County wrestlers prepare for new state tourney format

Hayden High School senior Wyatt Murphy qualified for state for the fourth straight year and is looking to place for the first time in his wrestling career.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The state wrestling tournament is already the most difficult wrestling event of the year, but the 2021 tournament in Pueblo this weekend may be the most challenging yet.

Typically, the tournament stretches over three days, but this winter, to limit exposure between athletes, the tournament takes place during only one day for each athlete.

The girls compete Thursday in the first-ever sanctioned state tournament for females, 2A and 3A boys compete Friday and 4A and 5A schools compete Saturday at the Southwest Motors Event Center.

Soroco High School freshman Larhae Whaley is the only Routt County female competing Thursday.

She’s been wrestling for years under the guidance of her dad, the Rams head coach Jay Whaley. She’s always wanted to be a state champion and hopes to take a crack at that goal.

“I need to take good shots, run my moves my dad has taught me and my coaches,” Larhae said. “Run the stuff that I’ve run all my life that makes me stand out.”

Soroco High School freshman Larhae Whaley is named the winner of a match at the Soroco Duals event Friday afternoon. (Photo by Shelby Reardon)

Soroco senior Kody Logan is headed to state for a third time, as is Hayden High School junior Dylan Zimmerman. Hayden senior Wyatt Murphy has been to state the past three years but has never placed. In his senior season, he’ll look to medal on the biggest stage.

One thing hasn’t changed at the state tournament: You have to be perfect to win. There is no room for error. That being said, rather than having to win four matches to be a champion, wrestlers need only win three with the eight-person bracket.

Logan is 14-0 at 170 pounds and is ranked the No. 1 wrestler in his bracket.

“Kody’s tough; he’ll be fine,” Jay Whaley said. “He’s probably one of the top kids in the state, so he’ll put his head down and go to work.”

Zimmerman goes into state with an 18-0 record at 138 pounds and is ranked No. 3 in the bracket. He’ll likely have to get through returning 132-pound champion, sophomore Lain Yapoujian out of Byers. John Mall senior Anthony Aldretti is also a defending champion at 152 pounds. He’s ranked No. 1 in the state.

Hayden head coach Matt Linsacum doesn’t want his wrestlers focusing on who they might be facing, though, only what’s in front of them.

“No tournament’s any different — one opponent at a time,” Linsacum said. “You don’t try to guess what’s going to happen in the match. At this point in their life, Murphy and Dylan, they’ve been wrestling since they were 2 years old. They’re going to step on the mat and let their body take over. That’s what the training prepares you for, so you’re not thinking; you’re just wrestling.”

Steamboat High School seniors Cole Moon and Ivan Reynolds are heading to state for the first time in their final season.

At 182 pounds, Reynolds has a tough day ahead of him as he might run into returning 182-pound champion Jacob Hustoles out of James Irwin High School.

“I was very happy when we both made it,” Moon said. “We’ve been wrestling partners all year, so it’s cool for both of us to be able to go down together.”

In the 195-pound bracket, Moon is the No. 8 seed. Right away, he’ll be facing No. 1 seed Braden Baumgartner of Weld Central.

With years of massive one-day tourneys under his belt, Moon said he’s not concerned with the altered format of the state tournament.

“I’m more used to a single-day tournament than I would be a multi-day tournament,” Moon said. “Wrestling multiple matches, I feel like I’m just as ready for that as I would be anything else.”

Although both young men are just finding their wrestling groove this year and have to face seasoned state qualifiers, Steamboat head coach Jordan Bonifas has faith in the two seniors.

“Six people medal, and there’s only eight-man brackets, so we just have to wrestle with confidence like we did (at regionals), and we can definitely bring home some hardware,” he said.

All five of the Routt County male qualifiers compete Friday.

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