DENVER — Alamosa senior Isabella Durgan’s debut at the Ball Arena took longer than most.
As a freshman, Durgan placed third in a men’s regional tournament while wrestling for the Sierra Grande. This would have made her one of the first female wrestlers to speak at what was then the Pepsi Center, except she broke her arm at that same regional tournament and was unable to wrestle at the ‘state.
Durgan’s sophomore year, she wrestled in the girls’ division, which was not yet sanctioned as a CHSAA sport. A virtual lock on qualifying as a junior, Durgan tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of regionals and once again missed the opportunity to wrestle in the first official girls’ state wrestling tournament.
Now a senior and with the girls’ division competing at Ball Arena for the first time, Durgan won her first game at the state on a Thursday night that featured many historic moments for girls wrestling in Colorado.
“My freshman year, I qualified but couldn’t make it, so I just had to sit in the stands and watch everyone on my team,” Durgan said. “This year I finally made it and I can make up for the loss of my first year. I’m so, so excited that the girls of the future can have this opportunity and just the opportunity to wrestle in general and have their own go.
“The recognition of everyone saying, ‘Yeah, the girls want to do this and it’s time we got something for them,’ just means everything. I’m thrilled to be here.
Due to the bad luck she faced early in her high school career, Durgan (23-4), who struggled at Sierra Grande her first two years in high school, might go under the radar for some. That didn’t stop her from posting a 3-minute, 17-second pin against Vista PEAK’s Samiah Andrews (10-11) in her Ball Arena and state championship debut.
“She’s a tough girl and she’s been a struggle forever,” Alamosa head coach Rusty Johnson said. “She’s very deserving and it’s really cool to see her come out, and all the other girls have a shot at Ball Arena.”
While Durgan might fly under the radar, the seven reigning state champions – Morgan Johnson (Loveland), Israel Resendez (Denver East), Persaeus Gomez (Pomona), Nicole Koch (Olathe), Navea Garcia (Platte Valley), Taylor Knox (Calhan) and Ciara Monger (Calhan) – who won the first state championships last winter, are not. All seven opened the first-ever title defense on Thursday.
“Welcoming our Colorado wrestlers to Ball Arena is a dream come true,” said CHSAA Assistant Commissioner Adam Bright, who oversees wrestling. “There have been countless people who have worked hard to make this event happen. It has been an honor to welcome these outstanding student-athletes home, finally, to Ball Arena, where they belong. The best wrestlers in Colorado State are all competing on the same floor in one of the biggest events our association hosts, as it was always meant to be.
How well did the defending champions fare in the first round?
105 pounds – Defending champion Morgan Johnson of Loveland pinned Sadie Corn of Olathe in 1 minute 30 seconds.
118 – Defending champion Israel Resendez of Denver East pinned Caici Mitchell of Eaglecrest in 2 minutes and 24 seconds.
118 – Defending champion Persaeus Gomez of Pomona pinned Kayla Bishop of Legacy in 31 seconds.
118 – Defending champion Nicole Koch of Olathe pinned Valentina Tarini of Dolores in 1 minute and 24 seconds.
161 – Defending champion Navea Garcia of Platte Valley pinned Esperanza Martinez of Doherty in 3 minutes and 15 seconds.
185 – Defending champion Taylor Knox of Calhan pinned Kate Macfarland of Fort Lupton in 5 minutes and 53 seconds.
215 – Defending champion Ciara Monger pinned Olathe’s Lynessia Duran in 42 seconds.
Coronado among many up-and-coming teams looking to make some noise
As is the case with so many women’s wrestling teams, the Coronado Cougars are just getting started. But that doesn’t mean they’re just content to head to Ball Arena, the longtime site of the state wrestling tournament.
The Cougars qualified three wrestlers for the state and two of them advanced to Friday’s quarterfinals. Candice Brickell and Marissa Rosario each put in strong performances and pinned their opponents to advance. Brickell’s win came in two minutes and 33 seconds and pitted her against fellow Colorado Springs District 11 competitor Katey Valdez de Doherty.
Rosario needed less than a minute to earn her victory and while she was thrilled to be part of the state tournament, she really enjoyed the taste of victory.
“That’s my goal, is to get in the top three,” she said. “It’s mostly about wrestling though. I’m not necessarily here to climb (on the top step of the podium) but I would say that’s definitely a goal.
The only wrestler from Coronado not to advance to the quarterfinals was rookie Jessica Farmer. She showed promise on her in-state debut as she edged Severance’s Faith Vondy on points before being pinned.
But with two out of three female wrestlers still alive, the Cougars are among those who are not only happy to be at Ball Arena, they are proud to know they are competing in an environment where they belong.