Steamboat Springs In the sport of wrestling, being strong on top and weak on the bottom is not all that uncommon, but it is not often used to describe a team.
But that is exactly the problem facing the Hayden wrestling team this year.
While three out of the seven lower weight classes are still vacant and two others filled by freshmen, five of the top seven weight classes are held by last year's state qualifiers. That scenario leaves the Tigers carrying the majority of their weight in the higher classes, in more ways than one.
The lower weights will find their anchor in a returning state qualifier, junior Troy Kochenhower at 119 pounds, and the only other returning starter in the bottom seven, senior 112-pounder Jake Booco.
But it is the top seven weight classes where the majority of Hayden's experience will come from as five of the wrestlers will return with last year's state tournament experience under their belts.
With six returning state qualifiers, Hayden's wrestling team has high hopes of beating its ninth-place finish in the state tournament last year.
For coach John Svoboda, his well-experienced team has the potential of placing a top five at the state tournament, and that is without the presence of last year's highest-place finishers.
"Things really look good; I hate to say that at the beginning," Svoboda said.
Even with the return of five seniors and four juniors, the Tigers will be minus the state's second-place 171-pounder, Joel Wixson, and former 125-pound state champion and last year's fourth-place 135-pound finisher, Anton Fredrickson. The team also lost two other state qualifiers, 125-pounder Jimmy Rossi and 140-pounder Josh Geissinger.
With 10 state qualifiers, last year's squad finished first at the regional tournament and took a ninth place at state.
But the Tigers might be hindered in their quest to repeat a regional championship with low numbers.
With only 13 wrestlers out for the season and a three-man-deep weight class at 152 pounds, Svoboda is looking at three of the team's 14 spots unfilled.
"We may have only 10 to 11 weight classes, but our goal is to once again take regionals," Svoboda said. "Our ultimate goal we have a small team but a lot of quality wrestlers we want to place top five in state."
Of the wrestlers the Tigers do have, their strongest state finishes come from junior Kelly Bruchez and seniors Kevin Miller and Clayton Neumiller. All three of the wrestlers finished in the third round of consolations last year at the state tournament.
At 152 pounds, Bruchez is Svoboda's top wrestler for the weight class. But the class is stacked with fellow junior Joe Pierce and freshman Matt Marchbanks also weighing in at the spot. Bruchez is moving up from the 145-pound weight class where he wrestled last year.
Also changing weight from last year, Miller will be stepping into Wixson's weight class at 171 pounds. Miller was at 152 pounds last year.
Neumiller is also moving up from 189 pounds as he takes on the 215-pound weigh class that was filled by Tanner Copeland, who will be wrestling heavyweight this year.
Svoboda is hoping to get his team to a top 5 finish with the help of some extra coaching. This year he has brought in five volunteer coaches, all Hayden alumni that are state champions or placers, to help drill his team.
The coaches might not come to practice every day, but Svoboda said they are instrumental as one-on-one instructors and brining the community into the gym.
"There's really a lot of positive things that the ex-wrestlers are brining into our program counsel and individual help and it brings up the intensity," he said.