Steamboat Springs Steamboat Springs wrestling coach Sean McCarthy said the ante has been raised.
Returning from the winter break, his wrestlers must now gauge themselves against the best wrestlers in their region with one primary goal - state qualification. To achieve the goal they will have to wrestle well at the Feb. 9 and 10 regional match at Ralston Valley.
Steamboat's best wrestlers got a taste of some of the top competition last Saturday at the Eagle Valley High School Invitational.
Houston Mader's win in the 135-pound class highlighted the Sailors' performance.
After barely winning his first-round match - 9-7, in overtime - Mader defeated Buena Vista's Josh Saar, 4-1, in the championship match.
"He's wrestling great," McCarthy said. "He's a great defensive wrestler. He scored with three takedowns and one nice escape."
Ben DeLine placed third in the 145-pound class after losing a tough first-round match to Rifle standout Derek Freutel, who went on to take the championship.
Steamboat's Cody Harris took third in the 171-pound class after using a surprise duck-under move to pin Middle Park's Aarron Trainor in the third period.
McCarthy also noted how stacked the competition was in the 119-pound class, matching Steamboat's Derek Morris against Rifle's James Conrardy, currently the state's No. 2-ranked Class 4A wrestler in his weight class. Still, Morris placed fourth and McCarthy thought the experience has been invaluable for the talented freshman.
"He's already met with and competed well with the toughest wrestlers in our region," McCarthy said.
Now, McCarthy believes it is a matter of his wrestlers winning the matches they should and stepping up their intensity to win against top conference opponents.
That challenge begins tonight with Steamboat's triangular match against Battle Mountain and Delta.
McCarthy said Steamboat's top five wrestlers match up well against Battle Mountain and that a deep Delta squad should provide "a good measuring stick" of Steamboat's individual talent.
A key match-up should be at the 145-pound weight class, where DeLine will face No. 4-ranked Ty Tatman of Delta.
"Ben will have to be ready, but he knows how to compete against the toughest kids in the state," McCarthy said. "He has a mental toughness that's hard to overcome."
This will be the Sailors' final home wrestling event of the season.
"It's the last chance for locals to see these kids perform," McCarthy said.
Wrestling starts at 4 p.m. in the Kelly Meek Gymnasium. Admission is $5 adults, $3 students and $2 for seniors.
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