Nathan Phipps felt strong Jan. 17. Then he met someone stronger.
Phipps, who was one of three Evergreen Cougar wrestlers to advance to the final of their respective weight brackets at the annual Evergreen Invitational, got all he could handle against Sheridan’s Luis Gurele.
Phipps led early but needed a reversal in the third period to send their 103-pound final into overtime. Gurele attacked at the next whistle, got Phipps down and managed a pin in 21 seconds.
“He was strong,” Phipps said. “I’m going to have to say (he was) probably the strongest person I’ve wrestled all year … And he knew his moves.”
Phipps tried for his favorite move on Gurele – the fireman – but just couldn’t find any advantage and was forced to grit his way to a 6-6 tie after three periods.
“I just couldn’t get it and he knew what to do,” Phipps said.
Phipps’ fate was shared by his teammates, as the Cougars were denied any individual champions. Nick Keitlin lost in the 171-pound final and Rory Finnegan took second at 189.
The Cougars scored 138 points to place fifth in the depleted field, which had late withdrawals from Liberty, Horizon and Aurora Central.
Ralston Valley took top honors with 162 points, Columbine crowned a tournament-best four champions to place second with 155 points, while Chatfield was third with 142.5 points.
Daniel Downs placed fourth in the 119-pound weight bracket, Connor O’Neal was third at 125 and Colby Fisher took fourth at 130.
Downs suffered a technical fall at the hands – and legs – of Golden senior Justin Midyet. Midyet scored a 15-0 victory and was able to hold down Downs with a nifty leg wrap around his head.
“It was painful. It was all right, though,” Downs said.
And it was worth it.
“It was cool. This is my first time placing in a varsity tournament,” Downs said. “I was a freshman last year on the (junior varsity), so it’s pretty cool. I just came out here and had fun.”
O’Neal was dominant in his final match as he overwhelmed Dakota Ridge’s Travis Barth for a 13-2 major decision.
O’Neal’s and Downs’ finishes were part of a welcome story for Evergreen coach Lane Williams.
“The lighter weights are starting to pick it up and become a little more aggressive and starting to win the closer matches,” Williams said.
Wes Knoll suffered his first loss of the season to Palmer’s Sam Hinkle as a poor third period was the difference in their 160-pound semifinal.
Knoll returned to take third by pinning Enrique DelGado of Smoky Hill in 4 minutes, 54 seconds.
“I’d rather he lose now than later on when it counts more,” Williams said of Knoll. “It will probably help him more in the long run than hurt him.”
Keitlin had a strong run to the 171-pound final, scoring a technical fall, a pin and a 6-0 decision in the semifinals.
Keitlin nearly went the distance with Dakota Ridge’s Steve Martinez but was pinned at the 5:29 mark.
Finnegan got an early bye and stuck Palmer’s Kendal Francisco in the semifinals at the 1:12 mark. Finnegan got high on Francisco but was easily able to compensate and get the pin.
Finnegan was pinned at the 2:35 mark by Dakota Ridge’s Justin Jackson.
Evergreen, which still has rival Conifer upcoming on its schedule, has its final home dual is at 7 p.m. Jan. 22 against Golden.