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Wrestling athlete of the year: Josh Martinez, Pine Creek
The second time was twice as nice for Pine Creek senior Josh Martinez, who capped a perfect season with his second consecutive state title.
Martinez had a 41-0 record at 125 pounds, pinning 20 opponents. His closest match was a 3-0 decision over a state champion from Texas in the finals of a tournament in Garden City, Kan.
“You train twice as hard because you know everybody’s going to be gunning for you,” Martinez said. “You train knowing that you have a target on your back. Just for that final burden to be relieved, it was awesome.”
But it wasn’t an easy road. Early-season bronchitis hurt his conditioning until the end of January. In December, he wrestled through a stomach bug to win a two-day, 57-team tournament, then battled torn cartilage in his knee during the final month of the season.
“It’s more of being mentally tough,” Martinez said about working through his ailments. “The whole year was preparing for little things from certain people and just being ready at all times.”
For Martinez, who is headed to the Air Force Academy next year, the season also marked the culmination of a career that saw him grow into a leader. It was a role that Eagles coach Billy Gabel imagined for Martinez shortly after he arrived in April of his freshman year, fresh off a state final loss in Washington.
Gabel asked for big things from his talented transfer — asked him if he wanted to be the face of the program and the spark that would change the course of the program.
Martinez wanted it and he met all of the challenges.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the fact that he, as a freshman, said ‘I want to be the leader of this team’ and he followed through,” Gabel said. “I consider him just as much a coach as a wrestler on the team. He’s not replaceable next year because he’s such a good leader. When you find somebody that’s willing to do that with a program, you’ve got to run with it.”
Martinez and Gabel spoke back then of putting Pine Creek wrestling on the map, statewide and nationally. After three straight top-seven finishes, third this year, the Eagles are a known quantity in Colorado — and western Kansas.
Martinez has been the tide that has lifted all boats.
“It wasn’t until this year that we started really getting recognized for our hard work and what we’ve done,” Martinez said. “The past couple of years we’ve had some kids step up and some kids not step. This year I believe that we had everybody step up.”