No. 7: Buffs' Hurtado brings home Class 6A wrestling title
By BRETT MARSHALL
When Garden City High School wrestler AJ Hurtado captured the Class 6A state wrestling title at 132 pounds, he became the Buffaloes' fourth state champion in as many years.
And, he was one of the most unlikely state champions that had risen to the top for the Buffs in recent memory.
Hurtado had lost 13 matches during the 2011-12 season and had not made the medal stand during his sophomore season.
But his 10-5 victory over Barry Newton of Wichita Heights was oh-so sweet for Hurtado, a junior who finished with a 32-13 record.
The year prior, it was Newton who had kept Hurtado from getting a spot on the medal stand, as the Heights wrestler had taken a 7-6 victory in the consolation semifinals.
"This feels awesome," Hurtado said after his championship match.
The victory was perhaps even more satisfying when considering Newton had been handed two penalty points in the match, including the first when the match was tied 4-all with barely 1 minute, 30 seconds remaining in regulation.
From there, with a 5-4 lead, Hurtado recorded a 2-point near-fall before giving up a 1-point escape to Newton with 30 seconds left. That made it 7-5. With 22 seconds on the clock, Hurtado got another 2-point takedown.
And as the clock neared 0:00, Newton was assessed with his second 1-point penalty for the final 10-5 margin. Newton had swung his elbow in what appeared to be an attempt to hit Hurtado.
"He (Newton) was good offensively, but my defense was really good in this match," Hurtado said. "I used moose rolls for my takedowns, and it's a move that I've worked hard on all year."
"This feels really good," Hurtado said in the aftermath of his title win. "Just the way he was wrestling really made me want this one more."
Hurtado's state championship helped the Buffs to an eighth- place team finish in a season where they had to overcome injuries, illness, and the death of teammate Braxston Medina before the competition began.
"There was a lot to deal with throughout the year," then head coach Monte Moser said. "I thought AJ really improved, worked hard and believed in himself. AJ's win more than made up for a lot of our disappointment."
Hurtado said his season turned around in late January after the Rocky Welton Invitational in which he struggled against top-level opponents.
"If you keep getting better, working hard, see the results, you change your goals and what you believe you can achieve," Hurtado said. "At the beginning of the season, I believed I could qualify for state, but until halfway through I couldn't visualize placing, and, yes, even winning the state."
Hurtado had reached the halfway point of his senior season at the Rocky Welton Invitational, where he lost in the quarterfinals and was unable to finish among the top four in his weight division. He re-dedicated himself to the final half of the season to work harder, improve, and see what the results would be.
It worked well, as evidenced by his performance in Wichita that brought home another individual title for the GCHS program.