Overland has unquestionably become a basketball school in recent years due to massive success on the court.
But another winter sport with a long-standing tradition at the school is rising in the background — wrestling.
A dual match victory over Cherry Creek — a first for the program in two decades — is just a part of an impressive start to the season for the Trailblazers under new head coach Trevor Griffin.
“We have a lot of room for improvement, but I’m happy with the results lately and we’re making some noise and feeling good about it,” Griffin said after Overland’s 51-30 dual match win Dec. 15 over Smoky Hill.
That “noise” is getting louder as the season goes along.
Griffin inherited a team with two returning Class 5A state qualifiers in seniors Sean Kelly (138 pounds) and Kaelin Chin (195 pounds), and returning regional placer in sophomore Isaiah Bradley (120 pounds), while talented freshman Grant Bradley (106) has further bolstered the lineup.
All four Trailblazers appeared in the top 10 of their respective weights in On The Mat’s Week 3 rankings, giving Overland the third-most among Aurora programs behind Grandview (7) and Cherokee Trail (6).
Kelly is undefeated and owns two tournament championships, as does Isaiah Bradley, who has rocketed up to fifth in the 5A rankings at 120 pounds with his 15-1 start.
The ball really got rolling on Dec. 8, when the Trailblazers went into Cherry Creek and came away with a notable 43-36 victory.
The Bruins no longer have any of the long line of Finesilver brothers that dominated the state for many years, but a victory remains a significant accomplishment for Overland, which overcame four forfeits and won five of the seven contested matches.
“I’m new around here, so I’m still trying to wrap my head around it, but the parents are really jazzed about it and the kids are really excited,” Griffin said of the win over Cherry Creek.
“It will help us move forward.”
The Trailblazers went on to finish fourth at the Vista PEAK Bison Invitational with just six wrestlers entered — four of them won championships — then they had two champions, four finalists and seven placers in a third-place team finish at the Sheridan Tournament Dec. 17.
While it’s still too early to equate this season’s team with Overland’s past glory, it has the potential to be the Trailblazers’ best squad in two decades. In fact, Overland has had just two top-six placers in that span.
Under former coach Greg Maetas — who moved from Overland to Grandview in 1997 and launched an elite program there — the Overland program had nine state champions, which still ranks as the most of any Aurora school, though there hasn’t been a new champion since 1996.
Amer Tipura came close in 2012-13 when he made the 220-pound state championship match at the 5A state tournament, but lost in overtime in the finals. He and Josh Christopher — who went 2-2 and placed sixth at 130 pounds in 2008 — are the program’s only state placers in the past 20 years.
This season’s team has two wrestlers who already have state experience, and believe that will push them onto the medal podium should they get back there again this season.
Kelly lost both of his matches at the state tournament last season, but came away thoroughly changed by the experience.
“State really opened my eyes,” said Kelly, who moved to 17-0 with five wins at the Sheridan tournament and is ranked No. 10 at 138 pounds in 5A.
“I’m on a different level now going in,” he added. “I’m striving to not just make it there and get by, I’m trying to win.”
Chin pulled off an upset of a ranked wrestler from Pomona in regionals last season and still managed to make state despite two losses, so he admits he wasn’t totally ready mentally for his trip to Pepsi Center.
“I was really nervous the first time and I actually wasn’t prepared after what happened at regionals,” Chin said. “I wasn’t really ready and I only won one match, but I don’t plan to lose this time.
“Honestly, I think about half the team will be there with me.”
Ranked No. 9 in 5A at 195 pounds, Chin is 14-2 at the break with his only defeats coming to Cherry Creek’s Christian Robb (No. 5 in 5A) and to Ridge View Academy’s Devan Mossman, who have combined to lose only one match.
Isaiah Bradley placed fifth at regionals as a freshman and has been outstanding in his sophomore season with a 15-1 record that includes a 5-0 mark — on three pins, a tech fall and 8-2 decision over Sheridan’s Alex Vigil (ranked No. 3 in 3A at 120 pounds) — at the Sheridan tournament. His only loss came at the Broomfield Duals to Colin Metzger of Doherty, who is ranked one slot ahead of him in 5A.
Grant Bradley has a 9-1 mark with his only loss coming at the Sheridan tournament, an 8-5 defeat to Florence’s Johnny Masopost, who is ranked No. 2 in 3A at 106 pounds.
Sophomore Miguel Mendoza is 10-5 at 132 pounds and junior heavyweight Aron Tekle is 6-4 among a group of younger wrestlers Griffin hopes can raise their level this season.
As for the attention of the school, it’s starting to come around, even during basketball season.
“Most people at the school that didn’t really care about wrestling have been telling us good job,” Chin said. “We’re really trying to bring the sport out.”
Overland resumes the season at the Legend Duals Jan. 7.
Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or email@example.com. Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel