Moffat County’s Makaela Simpson earns title at Tournament of Champions

Moffat County senior Makaela Simpson displays her first-place plaque as the winner of the 170-pound class at the Tournament of Champions, on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2023, in Vernal, Utah.
Courtesy Photop

With multiple athletes taking the podium and one earning a tournament title in the first event back from winter break, the past weekend was a positive indicator for Moffat County.

Bulldogs senior Makaela Simpson won it all during the Tournament of Champions in Vernal, Utah. She went undefeated in the 170-pound weight class for the tourney, which hosted boys and girls teams from Utah, Colorado and Wyoming.

In Utah, Simpson went 4-0 and dominated her final match with two takedowns of Central’s Adalee McNeil, quickly followed by a pin in the second period. Though it was their only time facing off that weekend, it was not their only meeting.

“She was one of my toughest rivals last year, and she beat me every time we wrestled, except regionals,” recalled Simpson, who competed with Soroco last season. “She had a little shoulder injury last year, but this time going head-to-head it was kind of exciting. We’re friends, but it was good to go against her and see how far I’ve come.”

As a runner-up at the same tourney last year, Simpson won each of her bouts at the Tournament of Champions this season by fall. None of them lasted too long, including her third, which she won in 49 seconds.

“I was very stressed out with all my matches, but I was surprised my semifinal match went by so quickly,” she said.

Moffat County senior Makela Simpson scores a pin during a girls wrestling tournament on Dec. 10, 2022, at Oak Creek.
Eli Pace/Craig Press

The girls team tied for fourth overall among 18 schools, with five other athletes placing.

Freshmen Kayla Deaton took third in the 130-pound class, going 4-1 with all of her wins by pin. Junior Kenleigh Pubanz came back from an early loss to also gain the bronze in the 235 class with two falls.

Moffat County’s Kenleigh Pubanz, far left, and Rylie Dschaak, far right, display medals won during the Tournament of Champions on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2023.
Courtesy photo

Junior Adrianna Price (105 pounds) lost in the first round and bounced back with three straight pins before falling to the same girl in the consolation finals with Price placing fourth.

Sophomore HayLee Staker earned fifth at 125, going 2-2 with junior Rylie Dschaak getting the same record and placement in the 235-pound class.

Simpson credited coach Ashleigh Seely with emphasizing conditioning for the team to build up their endurance.

“We want to be able to last all three rounds if we have to,” Simpson said. “I just want to get a little stronger to handle the bigger girls in my weight class.”

Simpson and Pubanz were each ranked fourth in their weight classes statewide in the final rankings of 2022 by CHSAA and Inside Colorado Wrestling, and they and their teammates are looking to keep it going.

“I’m super-excited how everyone’s turning out this year and how far everyone’s come since the start of the season,” Simpson said. “It’s amazing how everyone’s learned so much and placed at huge tournaments like this. It’s awesome.”

Boys back in business

With 31 boys teams from three states, MoCo guys placed 14th at the tournament with two wrestlers placing.

After being ranked second in Class 3A, senior Kaden Hixson took fifth at 132 pounds with a 6-2 stretch on Friday, Jan. 6, and Saturday, Jan. 7. After a 6-2 loss against an undefeated Utah opponent who won the bracket outright, Hixson took three straight falls in consolation rounds, as well as a 7-2 win over Meeker’s Trae Kennedy. An 11-4 decision denied him a shot at third place, but a win by medical forfeit gave him fifth.

Following two pins in the opening matches, senior Michael Voloshin was one of only three Bulldogs to advance to the quarterfinals. He lost 11-8 to Payson’s Quayde Beck and went 1-2 on the second day, ultimately placing seventh in the 165-pound bracket.

Sophomore Kaeden Martinez (138 pounds) and junior Blake Hill (175 pounds) also made it to the quarters — with three pins between them — before falling at the end Friday night and each taking another loss Saturday.

Though most of the MoCo roster struggled in the initial rounds, the tournament’s format includes Saturday’s single-elimination Second Chance event among eliminated grapplers.

Junior Eli Fredrickson had the best run there, pinning four opponents and gaining a 17-2 technical fall to win the 144-pound class. Hill also had better luck at that level, taking three pins before falling in the finals to place second.

Senior Billy Lawton also fought hard in the Second Chance 190-pound level with three pins before he took a 6-0 loss in the semifinals.

The MCHS boys will host Steamboat Springs and Coal Ridge for a triangular meet Thursday night, Jan. 12, at MCHS. The girls will travel to Fort Collins for their own triangular on Friday, Jan 13, followed by the Poudre Shooting Stars Invitational on Saturday, Jan 14.

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