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Fountain-Fort Carson pushes season trials aside to send 7 to state
Throughout the lead up to this week's state wrestling tournament which starts Thursday, The Gazette will deliver a different wrestling story every day. A look at our stories so far:
Wrestlers often talk about overcoming adversity and learning from tough losses. Fountain-Fort Carson displayed those characteristics en route to its second-place finish at the 5A Region 2 tournament.
The Trojans had to overcome a tumultuous midseason coaching change but have maintained focus throughout the drama unfolding around them.
On Saturday at Doherty, they beat two top-eight ranked teams — Arvada West and Mountain Range — while qualifying seven wrestlers for this week’s state tournament, one fewer than last year’s school record.
Sophomore 195-pounder Tracy Hancock, No. 2 in Tim Yount’s On the Mat rankings, claimed his first regional title. Sophomore Downey Wood (132, No. 4), juniors Cody Driver (182, No. 11) and Jacob Schoenberger (220, No. 10) and senior Nate Lightfield (170, No. 11) all finished second.
Juniors Rashawn Benford (145, No. 7) and Tevin Jones (285) each placed fourth to qualify.
The chaotic coaching change could have derailed the season, but the Trojans never wavered. The ouster of first-year coach Marcel Cooper led to the promotion of assistant Frank O’Connor.
“He’s going to make us keep the goal in mind,” Wood said. “He’s come in very well and taken over.”
O’Connor, who is set to retire from teaching and coaching after 26 years in the program, didn’t make any big speeches and credits the kids for the continued success of the program.
“I always played the sport because I loved the sport,” O’Connor said. “It never mattered who the coach was. The kids needed someone to step in that role, but it doesn’t matter who’s in the corner as long as the kids love what they’re doing.”
Wrestlers and coaches were unable to pinpoint any one wrestler with leading the team through the ordeal, citing teamwide camaraderie as the key.
“The way we kept it together is we’re all a family,” Driver said. “We’re there for each other. One person being a leader doesn’t work because one person’s not there all the time.”
Potential legal action keeps Fountain-Fort Carson coaches and administrators from being able to talk about the situation. Emotions are still raw for some, as evidenced by a profane outburst by Cooper, who was a spectator at Saturday's event, directed at former coach and current assistant principal Chris James.
Coaches and parents were frustrated and angry and one wrestler being interviewed as the encounter occurred nearby appeared to be embarrassed by it, but all remained composed. The athletes have shown a collective maturity beyond their years, showing that the program is on the solid footing it was a year ago.
“Regardless of who’s coaching us or not, it’s a sport,” Hancock said. “Our opponent is not going to have sympathy no matter what happened to you. Our team learned a valuable lesson from that.”
Lessons that should serve them well come Thursday at Pepsi Center.