AURORA — As one of 5A’s up-and-coming wrestling programs, Cherokee Trail finished 10th as a team at state last season and had its first finalist when Max Gonzales placed second at 220 pounds.
This winter, the Aurora school looks to add to its growing tradition. Now a senior, Gonzales is an early favorite to make another push for the 220-pound crown, while fellow seniors Zeke Silva (fourth at 182 last season and wrestling at 195 this year) and Josh Richardson (160) give the Cougars a trio of leaders.
“When you have guys like Max and Zeke in the room, in addition to skill you’ve got great leadership there and great work ethic, too, because both of those guys want to be at the top of the podium come February,” Cherokee Trail coach Jeff Buck said. “That trickles down to other kids like Josh, who came out as a freshman and didn’t have the typical wrestling frame but like a lot of guys in our room he’s morphed into a really solid competitor.”
In order to compete with perennial powers such as Ponderosa and Pomona at the state tournament, Cherokee Trail has increasingly relied upon its youth wrestling program. “More and more guys are coming into high school with an understanding of the sport,” Buck said.
He’s also mapped an arduous tournament schedule to get his team ready.
This season, the Cougars have gone to California for the La Costa Canyon Classic from Dec. 8-11, with travels to Wyoming (for the Shane Shatto Tournament on Jan. 6-7) and Utah (for the Rockwell Rumble on Jan. 20-21) still to come.
Both Gonzales and Silva placed at the La Costa Canyon Classic, a sign the seniors are on track to be in the mix for the program’s first individual state title.
But standing in the way of a title is a dominant Schultz brother. Ponderosa sophomore Cohlton Schultz is nationally-ranked and pinned Gonzales in the 220 final last season, while his older brother, Mountain Vista senior Trenton Schultz, is the defending champion at 195.
“There’s no question that Colhton and Trenton are both incredible wrestlers, and it’s a tall order for both of our boys,” Buck said. “We just believe that with the right mindset, and with traveling like we do, we’ve prepared the best we can to get a shot at them. If that does happen, we’ll be ready to put everything out there and see where the cards land.”
Gonzales wants to do everything he can be ready at state.
“It definitely drives me,” Gonzales said. “Ever since that loss, I’ve had a chip on my shoulder. I’m ready for that rematch, and whatever tough guys come between now and then.”
Sophomore David Rivera should also be in the mix at state at 138 pounds after qualifying at 126 last season. That gives the Cougars four realistic chances at making program history.
“Last year Max did a great job against one of the best wrestlers in the country, and our goal is to get him there again, and whoever else we can, and win a title,” Buck said. “We’ve yet to have a state champion at Cherokee Trail, but we believe we have kids in the room who can do it.”