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Wrestler of the year (lower weights): AJ Rees, Discovery Canyon
Discovery Canyon’s AJ Rees has found the recipe for winning state titles.
Rees won his second straight 4A title with a 6-4 decision over Fort Morgan’s Ian Wingstrom in the 113-pound final, finishing off a 39-1 season. Rees and fellow junior state champion Steven Turner (120 pounds) also led the Thunder to a fourth-place finish.
The secret ingredient?
"It just lets me know that I can compete with people,” Rees said. “Steve didn’t place at state last year and he just kept fighting. He knows what it takes to win a state title.”
The battles between Rees and his best friend, Coronado two-time 5A state champion Adrian Cordova, have become major attractions as well. The two have been training together since sixth grade.
“He knows everything I’m going to do and I know everything he’s going to do,” Rees said. “We have to pull out some stuff that we might have done before and it doesn’t always work. I feel like if can even stay equal with him I can do really well myself.”
Of course, being talented and hyper-focused doesn’t hurt either.
Rees’ uncles got him into wrestling at the age of 4. Over the years he played football and baseball as well, but once he reached high school he chose to focus, very intently, on wrestling.
“With AJ we had to literally sit him down and tell him when he needed breaks,” Thunder coach Ron Sukle said. “I know that more wrestling is going make you better, but I still believe that kids need a break and there were times where I told AJ, ‘OK you can’t be on the mat now.’”
“All I do is wrestle, seriously,” Rees said when asked about other interests. “I really don’t do anything else.”
That focus led Sukle to make Rees a team captain as a junior.
“He comes every day ready to work and ready to get better,” Sukle said. “He focuses on wresting when he’s in the room, nothing else, and that’s what is contagious about him.
“That’s the other thing, he’s always learning. That’s what I think sets him apart from everybody else. He wants to be a wrestler.”
It was a role Rees never envisioned but has enjoyed.
“I noticed (teammates) asked me about what I think about before a match,” Rees said. “They didn’t ask me how do I do this, how do I do that. They would ask me what I do in my head to help me prepare for matches. I thought that was really cool that they would come to me for stuff like that.”