Steamboat Springs The numbers are staggering.
Over three days, 896 wrestlers from four classes across Colorado will be wrestling in a combined 1,680 matches, vying for one of 56 championships at this year's state wrestling tournament.
Three wrestlers from Hayden -- Jake Doolin, Kelly Bruchez and Alan Stark -- and four from Soroco -- Josh Iacovetto, Brandon Ager, Whittier Gates and C.J. Horn -- will be somewhere in the masses when the tournament opens Thursday at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
Doolin, a Hayden sophomore, was a state-championship rookie last season and admits walking into the openness of the Pepsi Center -- home of the Avalanche and Nuggets -- can be overwhelming.
"Right when we got there for weigh-ins last year, it was empty," Doolin said. "I looked up and was like, 'This is huge.' After my first match I calmed down. This year, I'll be more relaxed and not so nervous and more focused, definitely."
The Class 2A preliminaries open at 3 p.m. Thursday, and the first Routt County athlete to take the mat will be Iacovetto. Last season, he won the 103-pound championship. This year, the Soroco senior is up to 112 pounds, and a veteran in terms of mat experience at state.
This is Iacovetto's fourth straight appearance. Horn, on the other hand, is making his first appearance at state as a senior, after placing third at the regional tournament held Feb. 14-15 in Grand Junction.
Horn arguably is wrestling better than any other Routt County athlete heading into the state tournament. He will just have to wait the longest to actually compete. At 275 pounds, Horn's division is the final one to go in the preliminary rounds.
Ager, the Rams' 135-pound wrestler, nearly missed his shot at even competing at all.
The Soroco senior finished fifth at regionals last weekend -- the top four make it to state -- but he was granted a wrestle back because he and the fourth-place finisher had not wrestled yet in Grand Junction. Ager won.
"He thought it was over before he even wrestled for fifth," Soroco coach Doug Gates said. "He was kind of bummed."
Gates said he convinced Ager he still had a chance and couldn't doubt himself until the tournament was officially over. Ager responded to his coach's challenges and will wrestle in his fourth state tournament Thursday.
Hayden wrestlers Bruchez (152) and Stark (215), and Soroco's Whit Gates (152) are also making a return trip to state. None placed last season, and all three will be fighting to make it into one of the top six spots this time around.
"I told them don't look at records," Gates said. "That means nothing. It's what kind of match are you going to wrestle this time. Eliminate them one at a time until you want to be where you want to be."
That means either Bruchez or Whit Gates will have to eliminate the other to make it to the finals, seeing that they are on the same side of the bracket.
The earliest they could meet is the semifinals.
Bruchez and Gates are the only two wrestlers from Hayden and Soroco that could face each other, and while they represent two different schools, they both represent the Western Region, a 13-team region that both Gates and Hayden coach John Svoboda consider the toughest in 2A.
"I think our region will represent itself really well," Svoboda said. "I look for some of our kids to shock other kids."
The Hayden wrestlers and coaches are leaving this evening, while the Soroco coaches and wrestlers are taking off early Thursday morning.
Weigh-ins for Thursday's preliminary rounds are at 11 a.m. at the Pepsi Center.
Injuries and illness are obstacles both teams will have to overcome. In addition to a trip to state, Doolin said he picked up a head cold this week and a hip injury at regionals. Neither, however, will keep him off the mat.
"Really, at regionals you leave it all out there because it could be the last tournament," Doolin said. "Now, you really, really go."