here’s a mop painted in gold hanging in the Palmer Ridge High School wrestling room. It has been there for three years and serves as a reminder to everyone involved with the Bears’ program wrestling that finishing second to rival Lewis-Palmer is not an option.
“Lewis-Palmer looks very strong this year,” said Palmer Ridge junior Jonathan De La Cruz, who wrestles at 220 pounds. “But we’re going to keep working hard and hopefully beat them. Everybody on our team needs to step up if we’re going to beat them.”
On Jan. 22, the two schools will go at it with the winner taking home the treasured “Golden Mop.” The event starts at 7 p.m. in the Lewis-Palmer gymnasium.
Lewis-Palmer has never been home to the Golden Mop. The Rangers were soundly defeated in 2011. The meet was cancelled in 2012 due to weather issues. Last year, a late pin by Palmer Ridge vaulted the Bears to a narrow two-point victory.
“Last year mistakes cost us and it was completely unacceptable,’ said Lewis-Palmer senior 106-pounder Alec Oberndorfer. “We can’t have that happen this year.”
On paper, it looks like Lewis-Palmer is the stronger team. The Rangers are 9-2 in dual meets and have dominated most of their competition this season. They are enjoying their best all-around campaign since Nick Baker took over as coach seven years ago.
The Rangers placed in the top 20 of the 67-team Northern Colorado Christmas Tournament last month. Lewis-Palmer junior Trevor Wilch (120) placed fourth in his weight class at the prestigious tournament.
Half a dozen Rangers are ranked in the top 15 in the state by OnTheMat.com.
“Our coaches have always been pushing us `Palmer Ridge, Palmer Ridge’ and now we have a great chance to beat them,” said Rangers’ senior 138-pounder Darryan Vanderpool. “It’s our chance to take it to them and actually take that mop.”
Lewis-Palmer already has a nice pedestal in its wrestling room set aside for the Golden Mop should they bring home the trophy.
“It will be right there for everyone to see,” said Rangers’ senior 170-pounder Joseph Glenn.
Lewis-Palmer wrestlers and coaches claim the ultimate team goal this season is to qualify as many guys for state as possible and have those guys place as high as they can. But along the way, beating Palmer Ridge would be a nice notch on their belts.
“We have these slogans like `Beat Palmer Ridge; Beat the Bears,’” said Rangers’ senior 126-pounder Brad Kadlubowski. “Everything we’ve worked on to this point is to beat Palmer Ridge and go to state.
“We don’t ever want the awful feeling of what happened at the end of last year’s match with them to ever happen again. I’m never losing to Palmer Ridge.”
Kadlubowki and Glenn both advanced to the state tournament in 2013, with Glenn placing 5th. Vanderpool qualified for state as a sophomore in 2012 and is looking to return to the Pepsi Center to cap his prep career. Vanderpool and Kadlubowski are wrestling partners.
“Darryan is one of the hardest workers in the room,” Kadlubowski said. “He pushes me and that’s what got me to the state tournament last year.”
Glenn added that the experience of wrestling at the Pepsi Center is a highlight of his high school career.
“There’s thousands of people watching you and it’s a surreal experience,” Glenn said of the state tournament.
Baker and his team spend parts of each summer working on team building activities. Last summer the squad went up the Incline in Manitou Springs and spent a week at a wrestling camp at Western State in Gunnison.
“We bring our Nintendos up there and we bleach our hair,” Glenn said. “It’s basically a party at wrestling camp.”
The team also goes to the Village Inn after home meets.
The seniors (heavyweight Luke Fowler included) have a special bond with Baker. They were coached by him as seventh graders at Creekside Middle School.
“It’s not like a coach-athlete relationship with him,” Oberndorfer said. “I consider him a friend. He’s a real close guy. It’s really cool to have him in the room. We all have mutual respect among everybody and it’s easy to learn from him.”
Baker is stepping down as head coach following this season so he can concentrate more on his duties as the school’s athletic director.
“These guys are dedicated to the program and to each other,” Baker said. “It’s never just an individual. They all do well and they all practice hard. They do everything you ask them to do.
“They are like a coach’s dream.”