About 11 months ago and soon after the very strange and limited coronavirus (COVID-19) wrestling season, Mullen head coach John Howes and his Mustangs had a very pertinent conversation.
“The goal,” the coach said, “and the expectation we talked about was to go and win a state title. And that’s the expectation we’re staying with.”
It will begin Thursday, when the Mustangs compete in the Class 3A portion of the Colorado tournament that will return after a year to Ball Arena with its loyal prep-wrestling fans and arguably the greatest spectacle of the school year.
Mullen had a fabulous regular season and early rounds of the postseason – the Mustangs won virtually every dual match, showed well in multiple tournaments, including one out of state, and won its first team regional title the past weekend at Holy Family in Broomfield.
Howes said he was told that Mullen had only been runner-up twice in regionals and he thoroughly enjoyed sitting at the end of the mat and watching his competitors advance to more-important rounds.
“Yeah,” he said, “I was excited for the kids. It was so much fun for them and watching them be excited. It’s really the first trophy they’ve brought home.”
The Mustangs are sending nine boys to the combined Colorado field and one for girls.
For boys, Dale O’Blia (106 pounds), Gilbert Antillon (113), Noah Linares (132), Mark Troni (160) and Kaleb Valdez-Lemos have been consistent winners in 2021-22 (a combined 189-22) and ranked at the top or near it in their respective weight classes.
While they will be joined by Cayden Robbins (120), Adam Domenico (145), Oliver Scelza (182) and Ami Hall (220), who may be in position to provide valuable team points, Howes, throughout the season, has openly admitted “that it’s about the Fab Five. I really believe in all of these boys and they definitely have a shot at being in the finals.”
O’Blia hasn’t lost a match as a schoolboy – he’s 57-0 and the defending 3A 106 champion. Antillon has developed considerably; Linares was third at 126 the past season; Troni, according to Howes, didn’t pass the COVID test to compete in the past state tournament; and Valdez-Lemos was third at 160.
Concerning seeding in a sport where upsets are unusual, Howes said he’s “OK with it, and the thing is, you have to beat someone (exceptional). Whatever the bracket is, that’s what the bracket is. You have to beat someone.”
Howes, in more than 30 years of coaching, including in Jefferson County, has never headed a team champion and wants this one for his wrestlers more than himself.
“The work they’ve put in since last March has been crazy,” he said. “They brought home a trophy, but it’s not the one they want.
“I think these boys are ready.”
In girls, Alina Antillon (37-0) won two non-sanctioned titles her first two seasons and lost in the finale in March in the first recognized campaign.
For her career, she is 100-3.
She has turned into a pin machine and remained undaunted wrestling for Jefferson – Mullen didn’t have enough competitors to field a full team as she is the only Mustangs challenger.
106 – Top-seeded O’Blia, So., 40-0 vs. Julian Marquez, Platte Valley, So., 31-15.
113 – Antillon, So., 31-9 vs. Teagan Jacobs, Grand Valley, Jr., 33-3/
120 – Robbins, Jr., 18-16 vs. Roberto Estrada, Weld Central, Sr., 43-1.
132 – Second-seeded Linares, Sr., 39-6 vs. Eli Frederickson, Moffat County, So., 25-12.
145 – Domenico, Sr., 26-14 vs. Kiler Liddell, Alamosa, Jr., 32-9.
160 – Second-seeded Troni, Sr., 38-3 vs. Bobby Holt, Severance, Jr., 18-9.
170 – Second-seeded Kaleb Valdez-Lemos, Jr., 41-4 vs. David Morehouse, Pagosa Springs, Sr., 10-12.
182 – Scelza, So., 13-10 vs. Colby Runner, Severance, Jr., 41-3.
220 – Hall, Fr., 7-8 vs. Dominick Ontiveras, Brush, Jr., 34-2.
136 – Top-seeded Antillon, Sr., 37-0 vs. Gianna Alirez, Northridge, Fr., 6-9.
Schedule for Mullen:
Thursday, Feb. 17
Classes 3A-2A and girls – Preliminaries, Noon to 3 p.m.
Friday, Feb. 18
Classes 3A-2A and girls – Quarterfinals, 8:30-11:45 a.m.; consolations immediately following; second-round consolations 4:30-6:15 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 19
Classes 3A-2A and girls – Third-round consolation, 10 a.m.; semifinal consolation immediately after followed by fifth place and third place.
Parade of Champions – 5:30 p.m.