DENVER — Canon City's James Ruona had never wrestled against Coronado's Angel Flores before Friday night.
But Ruona had studied his opponent on tape. He knew his moves, his strengths and tendencies. So when Flores appeared tired in the Class 4A's 132-pound semifinals match at the state tournament at the Pepsi Center, Ruona attacked.
And he never relented.
In the end, Ruona celebrated an 11-5 win after being down by a few points early in the match. In turn, the win allows the Canon City senior a chance at getting some long-awaited redemption.
On Saturday, he will finally wrestle in the state championships after losing in the semifinals the past three years and settling for third each time.
"It's been a long time coming," Ruona said.
Nine wrestlers from the Pikes Peak region advanced to the state finals, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Pepsi Center. Many are wrestling in the championships for the first time.
The semifinals featured 19 wrestlers from the area. By the end of the night, less than half celebrated wins.
This list includes Doherty's Tyson Beauperthuy (152) in Class 5A; Discovery Canyon's Patrick Allis (126), Coronado's KJ Kearns (160), Cheyenne Mountain's Nico Gagliardi (195) and Canon City's Gage Pruitt in 4A; and Woodland Park's Brady Hankin (106), The Classical Academy's Nathan Johns (182) and Elizabeth's Abe Leonard (195) in 3A.
Allis and Johns, both seniors, are defending state champions.
Meanwhile, freshmen Gagliardi and Hankin advanced to the state's biggest stage during their first respective state tournament appearances.
For Ruona, it took him four tries to get a state title shot. And no one was going to get in the way, even against an area wrestler he considered "a pro." Coronado's Flores, a junior, went up 4-1 midway through the match before things shifted.
Ruona said he noticed that Flores looked tired after the first period, and that's when he began to be more offensive. Eventually, he came back to take the lead and never looked back.
Ruona (37-4) will face Windsor's Dominick Serrano, who is undefeated at 41-0.
"It means a lot to finally make the step up," he said. "I was looking at (Friday's) match as this is my last year to get to state, and I said, 'Let's go out and let's win.'"
Last year, five of seven area wrestlers who made it to the finals came home as state champions.