There, amid a sea of maroons, blues, blacks and golds were Steamboat Springs wrestlers Andy Morell and Houston Mader.
Warming up in red on a red mat, the Sailors were swimming in different waters: the 2006 Colorado State Wrestling Championships.
Steamboat had not sent a wrestler to state since the 2001-02 season. On Thursday, Morell, a senior, and Mader, a sophomore, kicked off what coach Sean McCarthy hopes is a mid-February tradition: a trip to the Pepsi Center.
"It's a start," McCarthy said. "Hopefully it's not a culmination. Hopefully the seed is planted to send more kids to state."
Morell (26-12) and Mader (27-10) lost their opening-round matches but are still alive in the single-elimination consolation round, which starts at 1 p.m. today at the Pepsi Center.
Morell, who lost by technical fall to Liberty senior Robert Martz, will wrestle Fountain-Fort Carson junior Josh Lucero at 135 pounds.
Mader, who lost a 6-5 decision to CaÃ±on City's Matt Garoutte, will wrestle Englewood sophomore Bryce Penn in a 130-pound match.
"I thought I wrestled pretty well," Mader said. "I made one major mistake in the third period."
The mistake was getting caught flat-footed off a whistle with 1 minute, 9 seconds left in the match. With the scored tied at 4-4, the wrestlers started in the neutral position. Garoutte shot in off the whistle and took Mader's legs and his body to the mat.
Mader escaped near the edge of the mat with 42 seconds left, closing to within 6-5, but he was unable to get a takedown in the final 40 seconds for the come-from-behind win.
"I still want to win a couple matches," Mader said.
He will have that chance and may have an excellent shot to do so. Mader finished fourth in the Region 3 tournament, so he was paired against a tougher first-round opponent at state and nearly won. The three boys who placed ahead of Mader at regionals all won Thursday's opening-round matches at the state tournament, providing some indication as to the depth of Mader's region at 130 pounds.
Before the state tournament started, McCarthy pulled Morell and Mader aside and talked to them about not taking a state tournament berth for granted.
"I told them it's great we made it to state, but let's not be happy we made it," McCarthy said. "Now, let's go place. ... Hopefully they don't get down on themselves."
Mader and Morell can still place, but they will have to win their next two matches for a shot at sixth place.
The 2006 Colorado State Championships conclude Sat--urday with the consolation rounds, third and fifth-place matches and the championships. The wrestling finals begin at 6:30 p.m. with the Parade of Champions.
--o reach Melinda Mawdsley, call 871-4208 or e-mail email@example.com