DENVER — The Pepsi Center has the amazing ability to change people.
Wrestlers, for one, despite all their tournament experience in a sport that is pure one-on-one and absent of any good excuses, can allow funny things to happen when they walk on the mats at the state wrestling tournament.
That’s what happened to Evergreen’s dashing duo of Wes Knoll and Nick Keitlin when the whistle sounded to mark the beginning of the Class 4A tournament on Feb. 19. Both earned their spots in the top-16 of their respective weight brackets, but both got off to tentative starts.
For Knoll, a 160-pound senior, he would snap out of it in time to come within an overtime victory of placing. For Keitlin, a 171-pound junior who gave up about seven pounds to every competitor, it was a chance to gain valuable experience at a venue he’ll most like return to next year.
“I was ecstatic to get two kids to state,” said first-year Cougars coach Lane Williams, who felt that small mental mistakes were the toughest opposition for his two wrestlers.
Knoll went 2-2 at state to finish his season 30-11, while Keitlin was 0-2 and finished 32-10.
Knoll drew Pueblo Central’s Andrew Morris in the first round and struggled throughout an 8-1 defeat. Morris, who would go on to place third, dictated the match and never had to counter any serious threats from Knoll, who was clearly not in his usual form.
Knoll gave up a takedown and trailed 4-0 at the end of the first. Morris extended his lead to 8-0 and was in complete control.
Keitlin had a nearly identical opener against Mountain View’s Kohlman Scribner, who would go on to place second in the 171-pound weight class. Keitlin struggled to mount an offensive against the junior from Loveland and was down 5-0 at the end of the first period.
Scribner extended his lead to 8-0 in the second and 11-0 in the third before finally letting Keitlin escape so he could seemingly work on his takedowns en route to a 19-4 technical fall with 21 seconds remaining.
“They really weren’t ready for that first match,” Williams said of his Cougars.
Knoll returned Feb. 20 to score an 8-2 decision over Montrose’s Braxten Franz. Knoll’s next match was over quickly as he pinned Rifle’s Dano Fugita in just 30 seconds.
A chance to earn the title of a state placer was on the line when Knoll faced Woodland’s Rhys Ackart.
Knoll had a lead but was sent to overtime where he came within a few feet of scoring a takedown to win it. In Williams’ mind, Knoll kind of ran out of gas as he tried to circle behind Ackart, which prolonged the match long enough for him to pin Knoll at the 6:27 mark.
“He would beat that kid if he wrestled him again,” Williams said.
Keitlin’s last match would also end in a pin as he was eliminated by Rifle’s Keifer Deere, who stuck Keitlin at the 4:16 mark.
For Williams, he is excited to have his first season at Evergreen under his belt.
He spoke Feb. 23 of how fortunate he is to have strong parental support for the program and looks forward to recruiting more athletes for next season.
“It was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed it … The future is very bright,” Williams said.