Jan. 20—LAFAYETTE — Broomfield's Mars Soto is used to being one of the biggest guys in the gym, but this season, his presence looms a bit larger than normal.
Going into this weekend's Top of the Rockies tournament at Centaurus High School, the senior heavyweight sat at No. 2 in his weight class in On the Mat's Class 4A rankings, and he had just suffered a handful of losses through more than 40 matches.
At TOR, he was on a revenge tour as he continues to hone his craft and build up his stock even further. He outlasted Cheyenne East's Charlie Green in the semifinals in a 5-3 decision, avenging a previous 8-2 loss to the Wyoming grappler just six weeks earlier.
"That (loss) was really hard because I had four duals before that and I was really tired," Soto said. "Coming back and doing this shows I really want it bad and I want a state title. Winning against him shows how hard I've worked, how much effort I've put into it. This win really helps me because I beat everybody that has beaten me in the year."
Ever since that blemish marked up his record in early December, Soto has been hitting the mat with his older brother and Bryant Walker, who earned silver for the Eagles at the 2020 state tournament, to build up his stamina against stiffer competition.
He ended his run at the TOR as runner-up, after losing by fall to Zachary Pittman of Grand Island (Neb.) in the finals.
Broomfield's third-ranked Cody Tanner (120 lbs.) placed second in his weight class Saturday after losing 5-2 to Pueblo East's top-ranked Julian Espinoza in the first-place match.
From the moment the ref raised Quinn Funk's arm as the rightful victor of the Class 5A 190-pound state championship in 2023, the Legacy senior knew he wanted his final season with the Lightning to play out like one of AC/DC's most popular tunes.
To date, "Thunderstruck" has fit his personality amid competition well. There was no turning back, and he's left his opponents shaking at the knees. Absolutely no one has been able to match the thunder of his guns.
He improved to a spotless 31-0 on Saturday night when he defeated Cherry Creek's Jake Howell with a 7-3 decision in the finals at Centaurus, and says his confidence remains high as the season tapers off toward the state tournament next month.
His predictability, however, has proven a bit of a challenge, as it did in his 4-0 semifinal win over Brush's Christaun Astorga in front of a packed gym. Despite that, no one has been able to take him down this year.
"It definitely was a tough match, just because most people know what my attacks are and stuff, so they know what to look for. I just try to stick with my top top stuff and it usually works out," Funk said. "I'm definitely motivated to get the second win. It hasn't really changed it much. I'm still pretty much just putting in the work at practice and performing at tournaments."
Unsurprisingly, Funk has maintained the top ranking in his 5A weight class in On the Mat.
When looking at Centaurus heavyweight Xavier Valentin-Bradford's record heading into Saturday, no one would be blamed for thinking him the odds-on favorite to win his division at one of the toughest high school tournaments that Colorado has to offer.
He had to reach across state lines to find someone who could beat him.
Throughout much of his semifinal match against the Nebraska native Pittman, the two grapplers stayed neck-and-neck. Valentin-Bradford secured a 1-0 lead by the end of the second period, but saw that quickly disappear as Pittman steadily outscored him through the final 120 seconds.
Valentin-Bradford only had one black mark on his record prior to the loss alongside 29 victories. Tim Yount hoisted him to the top of his 5A heavyweight rankings for the dominant showing he's been able to put together this year.
"It just shows it's a pretty hard tournament out there," Valentin-Bradford said. "Anything can happen. A lot of upsets can happen. You just wrestle for yourself out there. This match, this tournament, just kind of proves who you are, and it just pushes you in a way that you've got to just accept."
He still took pride in his third-place finish, which came through a hard-earned 7-5 victory over Grandview's Leland Day. In the two seasons leading up to Saturday's reprisal of the TOR, he hadn't made it past the early hours of the second day of competition.
Now, he'll return to the drawing board as he chases gold at Ball Arena next month.
"I got in my own head a little bit," he said. "I got worried because I didn't do very well the last two years here. Getting this far just really was going through me right now, with all the nerves and all that, but overall, it felt really good. I just have to push myself a little bit more."