The little school that could
Coronado wrestlers stay in 5A, win state
A year ago, Coronado High wrestlers came oh-so-close to winning the school's first-ever state championship in that sport.
The team achieved its second-place finish despite being one of the smallest schools in 5A wrestling. In fact, Coronado's size - now less than 1,500 enrollment - caused it to be dropped to 4A this year in all its sports.
Except one. Agreeing to the request of his returning seniors, wrestling coach Matt Brickell asked state officials to let Coronado compete one more year in 5A.
“We could have won 4A easily,” Brickell told a celebration assembly Feb. 22 in the high school gym. “But they wanted another chance at the 5A title.”
And that's why Coronado was celebrating.
The triumph came last weekend at the 2011 state wrestling tournament in Denver. Led by three individual champions and nine medalists in all, the Cougar grapplers racked up 184½ points to pin the top spot.
Until then, no high school from this city had captured a state wrestling trophy since Wasson in 1974, and the only other was Colorado Springs High School in 1953 (before it became Palmer High), Brickell said.
For Coronado, this is just the fifth state team title in its 41-year history - the others were in hockey (one) and volleyball (three) - with the most recent in 1992, Principal David Engstrom announced at the assembly.
Coronado's individual state champions were Adrian Cordova (112 pound maximum-weight category), Carter McElhany (130) and Nathan Burak (189).
For the year, Cordova was 38-5 in his matches, McElhany 46-1 and Burak undefeated at 44-0.
Other Cougar medalists at state were Devan Cruz, sixth in the 125's; Justin Hays, fourth in the 140's; Nick Burghardt, second in the 160's; Ethan Olson, fifth in the 171's; Jared Rieck, second in the 215's; and Fabian Alaniz, fifth in the 285's.
The seniors who medaled were McElhany (a repeat winner), Rieck (second last year), Burghardt (second last year), Olson (fifth last year); Alaniz, Burak and Hays.
Another interesting fact about Rieck is that his second place at state last year was at the 145-pound level. But he obviously filled out some this year to wrestle at 215s. As a freshman, he'd even wrestled matches in the 103s.
Cordova, a sophomore, was fifth last year as a freshman. Cruz is also a sophomore.
Other Cougars competing at state were Philip Faires, 103; Devin House, 119; Tommy George, 135; and Trevor Powers, 152.
At the assembly, the wrestlers ran into the gym with spotlights on them, the school band playing and the crowd cheering, with McElhany in front, holding the state trophy high in the air.
Among those in attendance were District 11 Superintendent Nick Gledich, five of the seven school board members and three of Coronado's past principals.
School Board President Tom Strand, clearly affected by the district's tight-budget problems, told the team, “You've given us the first thing we've had to smile about in a long time.”
Athletic Director Dave Howard dramatized the wrestling experience - “man on man, one on one, putting it all on the mat at one time.”
In his comments, current Principal David Engstrom thanked the wrestlers for their hard work in overcoming such adversities as illness and injuries.
Asked about these issues in an interview, Brickell said they were a real concern. Last year's title hopes were dashed when Burak, then a junior, suffered a season- ending injury before state. This year, Rieck had to be put into the hospital twice because of strep throat - once before the regional tournament and again before state - but still managed to take second at both events.
“If Jared didn't do what he did, we wouldn't have won,” Brickell said. “He wasn't even 70 percent. It's amazing what he did.”
Also below 100 percent was Burghardt, who had to compete through mononucleosis and a knee injury during the season and was only “somewhat healthy for state,” the coach said.
He praised all his wrestlers for their commitment. “This group definitely was dedicated,” Brickell said. “The seniors really wanted it.”
The previous weekend in the Coronado gym, the Cougars had won the regional tournament against 15 other schools.
Coronado's margin of victory at state was not much, with Pomona - which had bested Coronado in a multischool tournament in January - medaling all 11 of its wrestlers to place second, just 16 ½ points behind.
In wrestling tournaments, matches start with the lowest weight, then continue up from there. Brickell said the turning point for Coronado was the 130-pound championship match between McElhany and Pomona's Raymond Robledo. McElhany won in a 4-2 decision.
“That's when we knew we had it,” Brickell said.
As for his own feelings, winning a state title after coaching Coronado wrestlers since 1989, he said - two days after the tournament - “It hasn't sunk in yet. It's kind of neat.”
Westside Pioneer article