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THE GRIND: West Forsyth's Stonecheck won't let injuries spoil final shot at state title
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West Forsyth senior wrestler Denver Stonecheck could become the school's first four-time individual area champion this season. - photo by Micah Green

There may not be a better wrestling name than Denver Stonecheck. There may not be a better spot for him to wrestle collegiately than The Colorado School of Mines, located—you guessed it—just west of Denver, Colorado. It's a prestigious Division II program, nestled in the Rocky Mountains, and Stonecheck drew the attention of its head coach earlier this year. He still needs to improve his SAT score to make it there, but he has plenty of options.

“I've been going back and forth,” Stonecheck said about continuing his wrestling career. “I've been on the edge on whether or not to wrestle. Earlier this season I was unsure about it. After some time it hit me that I don't want to give it up. If I have the skill, I want to pursue it and use it to get into school.”

The West Forsyth senior hopes that he can finish as the Class AAAAAA champion at the traditional state tournament later this winter, which would undoubtedly draw attention from more college programs. As great as his career has been so far, he's still facing an incline—a rocky, mountainous ascent.

Stonecheck was the individual champion in Area 6-AAAAAA three straight years. If he wins area again this season, he'll be the first four-time region champion in West's history, since opening in 2007.

It would seem that, as he grew older and more polished, Stonecheck would more likely find the path of least resistance toward his goals. He's a little jaded about winning area. He's more excited about finishing as a state champion after placing third last season.

But his senior season has been more of a struggle than ever. He was off to a hot start, having just one loss on the books before suffering an unfortunate combination of injuries in a match against South Forsyth's top wrestler, Felipe Hayes. There are no hard feelings, but physically Stonecheck has been battling a fractured neck bone, a bruised rib and torn cartilage in his side. He took two weeks off before returning to the mats, but has lost four matches since.

“It's been really frustrating,” Stonecheck said, “because at the beginning of the season I felt unstoppable. Next thing you know you have to take off a couple of weeks, and then I'm out of shape. It definitely sucks.”

But even as an individual, where Stonecheck has amassed a still-impressive 24-5 record (he was 49-6 last season), he's had his eye on a different feat. He hopes the Wolverines, a younger group headed by a group of reliable seniors, including Stonecheck, can be at full health and make it to state for the first time since head coach Steven Stromie took over five seasons ago. That is where the real challenge lies.

“Wrestling is different than any other sport,” Stonecheck said. “You play your own part. You can help others emotionally, but you're the only one on the mat when the time comes. You control the work you put in, and that plays out at the end of the day. It's slightly frustrating, but it's a challenge. No matter how hard you try, that doesn't decide the team's fate. Every single one of us has to have the same commitment.”

West managed to advance to the semifinals in the Area 6-AAAAAA duals meet, which it hosted Saturday. While North Forsyth and Lambert took the automatic qualifiers to state, the Wolverines will continue to try to strap in for the home stretch of the season.

“Making state as a team is a goal we've been working on all summer. Hopefully this is the year we make it,” Stonecheck said.