Ty Zabel remembers the emotions swirling in his head the first time he advanced to the state wrestling tournament. It was 1985, and he weighed 155 pounds.
Today, three of the five Routt County wrestlers who qualified for the 2005 Colorado State Wrestling Championships will experience those emotions as they take to the Pepsi Center floor for the first time.
"It's very overwhelming," said Zabel, who coaches the Hayden wrestling team. "You're excited from regionals, and you get to go to state, and you're focused on that. Monday rolls around and you are like, 'Man, this is going to be tough.'"
Practices have gone well this week in Hayden and Soroco, where season-long goals have come to fruition for Randy Muhme, Robert Culver, Joel Schlegal, Levi Gonzales and Matt Iacovetto.
Muhme and Culver will represent the Tigers. Schlegal, Gonzales and Iacovetto will represent the Rams. Muhme and Iacovetto are the only two with state tournament experience, but that doesn't mean the other three won't wrestle well.
Schlegal is coming off a Region 1 championship during which he upended Grant Hobbs of Dolores County in the 103-pound finals, avenging two earlier losses and proving that, though he is a sophomore, he is ready for the grandest of wrestling stages.
"I had a good day," Schlegal said. "I feel like I should be in the top four at state. I've wrestled a lot of the kids before."
Schlegal opens against freshman Brandon Dunlap of Eads. Gonzales said he is a little surprised he made the 112-pound bracket as a freshman. He has wrestled in a tournament at the Pepsi Center before, but it was nothing like a state tournament.
"I'm nervous," he said.
Gonzales will be the underdog in his opening match against Rocky Ford junior Matt Maestas. Gonzales heads to the state tournament after wrestling well at regionals, where Iacovetto, a senior, said he left impressed with the way Schlegal and Gonzales wrestled with state berths on the line.
"I knew they could make it," Iacovetto said.
Of all the Routt County wrestlers who qualified, Iacovetto has the most experience and most exposure. With an older brother who won a state title, Iacovetto has grown up around wrestling. This year, the 152-pounder said he felt more pressure to qualify than in the past "since this is my last year," he said.
"You always come in thinking about next year," he added. "Not this year. I know how tough it is. My weight is extremely tough, but I have a biased opinion."
Few would argue with Iacovetto, who opens against senior Ryan Trujillo of Antonito. Iacovetto said he feels prepared heading to state, considering he earned his trip after finishing third in arguably the toughest regional in the state last weekend.
Zabel said the Region 1 tournament was the toughest in the state.
"Meeker, Paonia and Nucla will be in the top five among the teams at state," he said. "I think we have a tough region. They are ready. It's almost like two different seasons. This is a whole new season. Anything can happen at state."
Muhme, a senior who qualified last season, opens against Akron junior Brian Goble at 275 pounds. Culver, a sophomore who qualified for the first time this year in his first year of varsity wrestling, opens against Swink sophomore Chris Reynolds.
"Randy got the taste last year and is pretty hungry," Zabel said. "Robert is a big, strong boy, and the 215-pound weight class is basic wrestling. It's good old fundamental wrestling, and Robert has picked that stuff up. Roberts worked for it."
The Soroco team took off early today, while the Hayden team went down Wednesday night. Zabel wanted to get settled into the hotel.
"We'll let them go over (to the Pepsi Center) first thing and walk around and see all the mats on the floor and keep them focused," Zabel said. "With just two down there, we can be right there with them."
While the thousands of eyes watch.
-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org