Hayden Anger and frustration had already been coursing through Christian Carson for 24 hours when he was called to the podium at the state wrestling tournament at Denver’s Pepsi Center.
The rest of the 2016 medalists in the 195-weight bracket took their places beside him, some, including the new state champion, Brandon Anderson, from Sedgwick County, still glistening with sweat from their final match.
Carson, who finished sixth, was in jeans and a letter jacket, his final match long over but his bitterness lingering.
That’s when one final emotion came to him, as he looked to his side at the wrestlers who filed in for fifth place, fourth place and third place.
Carson felt regret.
He’d had his heart torn out 24 hours prior, losing 8-5 in a championship semifinal match he’d still today give anything to re-wrestle.
He hadn’t gotten his emotions back in line by the time that morning’s consolation matches started, and while he showed flashes of the raw power and aggressiveness that had taken him to the precipice of a state championship, he lacked the heart.
He lost, slipping first into the fifth-place match, then to sixth after he lost there, too, giving up points to wrestlers he’d beaten earlier in the season, collapsing after his dream of a state title was gone.
“It tore me down,” Carson said. “I wasn’t emotionally or mentally prepared to lose in the semis, so my other matches after that, I couldn’t get it out of my head. All I cared about was how I lost in the semis.”
It was a miserable trip, he said, looking back Tuesday night as he worked through one of his final practices ahead of this year’s state tournament. It took him awhile to realize that he didn’t come away with the championship he’d sought, he did come away with a priceless lesson.
Carson said he had to learn how to lose and now, heading back to state, he’s hoping that can help him win.
The state wrestling tournament starts Thursday afternoon, and nine Routt County wrestlers will be there for a shot at a championship.
Steamboat’s sending five — Hayden Johnson, a returning state finalist, at 160 pounds, Matthew Hansen at 152, Lance Bryant at 145, Dakota Thvedt at 126 and Colton Pasternak at 113.
Soroco, meanwhile, will send three. Jace Logan, another returning state finalist, will be at 152 pounds. Lane Martindale will be at 145 and Sky Carlson at 195.
The No. 1 kid
Carson is Hayden’s only state qualifier, but he’s got big plans for his senior season after his crash landing there a year ago.
Looking back, he can pick out plenty he did wrong in that semifinal loss. He was too cautious early in the match. He started scoring when he did get more aggressive, but it was too late.
It was still affecting him a day later when he accepted a medal for sixth, but that was the moment it clicked.
“I looked at the kids in third and fourth and I thought, ‘I beat them.’ I could have been where that kid is right now,” he said.
Carson came to wrestling late compared to many of his peers. He wrestled early in elementary school but pulled away as he got older, convinced that basketball was his sport. He eventually came back, however, and found himself a natural fit on the mats by the time he started high school.
He’s quick with his shots and makes toughness a point of pride. A running back on the Hayden football team, he missed much of the season with a nasty hamstring injury that left his leg bruised and swollen. Against doctor's wishes, he came back for the last game of the season but could only play offensive line in that game.
Those skills paid off in wrestling with a trip to state as a sophomore, when he went 2-2 and didn’t place, and as a junior, when he charged to that semifinal match.
This year, he’s hoping it can pay off just a little more.
Wrestling’s not his future. He earned all-state honors in football this year and hopes to play in college, but wrestling is most certainly his focus for now.
One lesson he’s learned is about finding peace after losses.
The regional tournament gave him another opportunity to do just that. He matched up with Soroco’s Carlson in a wild match in the regional championship that went through every possible overtime and tiebreaker. Finally, Carlson hung on through the final overtime period, preventing and escape and thus winning the match.
“Sometimes losing is the best teacher,” Hayden coach Chad Jones said. “We had a good, humbling loss at regionals. There are four or five kids at this weight who are very capable of capturing the title, including Sky Carlson, and including Christian. He has just as good a chance as any.”
Carson’s the sixth seed at state but, at 30-6, has one of the best records in his division. He will open against Del Norte junior Dillan Salter, and, Carlson hopes, go from there, a match at a time back to the state semifinals then one match beyond.
He wants to stand at the top of the podium.
“It would mean everything to make the finals,” he said. “I’ve always dreamt of being the No. 1 kid.”
And if he can’t be the No. 1 kid?
“I’m just going to have to get third,” he said. “It wouldn’t be what I want, but it’d be what I’d have to do.”
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9