Josh Richardson only took up wrestling because of a bet with a friend, but nobody would have wagered he would be wrestling for a state championship Feb. 18.
But there was the Cherokee Trail senior on the floor at Pepsi Center about to take the mat for the 160-pound Class 5A state championship with his singlet on backwards.
Once he got his mini-wardrobe malfunction corrected, Richardson went out and tangled with Pomona’s Jason Romero — who had been expected to be there all season — in an 11-5 loss.
“It was great; it would have been better if I would have won, but I couldn’t have asked for a better experience,” said Richardson, one of three runners-up for the Cougars that also included fellow seniors Zeke Silva (195 pounds) and Max Gonzales (220 pounds).
“I started wrestling because I lost a bet,” he added. “I was going to play basketball in high school, but I’m glad I didn’t. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
In seventh grade, Richardson’s friend Noah — now at Eaglecrest — bet him that if he could do 50 pushups that Richardson would have to come to wrestling practice.
His friend did 51 pushups, Richardson showed up at practice and fell in love with wrestling immediately, including the hard work and discipline it requires to succeed.
Richardson (who finished his senior year 38-12) said his wrestling career is over, but he learned lessons about the sport and about life in general from his time in it.
“Hard work pays off; sometimes it doesn’t pay off like you want it to like tonight, but I was a state finalist,” Richardson said. “I’ve never been here before even to watch, so this was amazing.”
Cherokee Trail coach Jeff Buck watched Richardson move up five weight classes over his five years and make a run at becoming the program’s first state champion before falling just a little short.
“I’m so proud of him,” said a clearly moved Buck after the final.
“Here’s a kid who in four years went from 132 pounds to 160 and was in the march at the state finals.”
Silva and Gonzales also had their chances to give the program its first state winner, but were stopped by the Schultz brothers, Trent of Mountain Vista and Cohl of Ponderosa.
Ranked second behind Trent Schultz nearly the entire season at 195 pounds, Silva earned his chance to take the No. 1 spot with pins in each of his first three state matches.
Schultz had two pins and a second period tech fall in his matches, but Silva took him to the brink as the two went into sudden death overtime tied 1-1.
With less than five seconds left in overtime, Silva tried to throw Schultz and instead ended up on his back for the deciding takedown in a 3-1 loss. It was the only loss in Colorado for Silva, who finished the season 28-3 and plans to continue his wrestling career in college.
A year later, Gonzales found himself right back on the same mat against Cohl Schultz in the 220 pound final with the result, though in a different manner.
Gonzales got pinned in the first period of last year’s final, but kept out of tie-ups with Schultz and managed to go the entire three periods — the first wrestler to avoid pin against Schultz in the sophomore’s eight career state matches — in a 7-0 defeat.
“It’s a better feeling than last year, but it’s obviously not the outcome I would want,” Gonzales said. “I feel like I was a lot tougher this year. Last year, I got straight punked for lack of a better term, so I just wanted to go blow for blow and take it head on.”
A football player who turned himself in an elite wrestler, Gonzales finished his career with three top-three places at the state tournament, with a third at 195 pounds in his sophomore year to go with his two runner-up finishes to Schultz.
Like Richardson, Gonzales — who has signed to play football at CSU-Pueblo — wrestled his final match.
“I’m a football player who wrestles, he’s a wrestler who wrestles, so he can have this,” Gonzales said. “I’m just excited to go out and play football and make my mark.”
Despite the result, it was a memorable season for the Cherokee Trail as the Cougars finished seventh in the team standings and raised the bar yet again for the program.
“Last year, we had one finalist and this year we had three, so it’s going to keep going up,” Gonzales said. “I’m going to be the biggest fan of whoever comes down here next and cheer them on to that first state title.”
Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel