Houston Mader, bottom, spars with teammate Derek Morris during practice last week. Mader is looking to improve on last year's fourth-place state finish.

Photo by John F. Russell

Houston Mader, bottom, spars with teammate Derek Morris during practice last week. Mader is looking to improve on last year's fourth-place state finish.

Steamboat wrestler looks to build on last year's fourth-place finish at state

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Wrestling

2007-08 Steamboat Springs High School regular season schedule

Dec. 1 Carl Ramunno Invitational

Dec. 8 at South Routt Tournament

Dec. 15 at West Grand Tournament

Jan. 1 at Eagle Valley Tournament

Jan. 9 Summit County @ Battle Mnt.

Jan. 11 at Unitah Tournament

Jan. 12 at Unitah Tournament

Jan. 17 Moffat County

Jan. 19 at Conifer Tournament

Jan. 26 at Valley HS Viking Tourney

Feb. 2 at Routt County Showdown

Feb 15 Regional at Moffat County

Feb. 16 Regional at Moffat County

Feb. 21 State at Pepsi Center

Feb. 22 State at Pepsi Center

Feb. 23 State at Pepsi Center

— Hidden inside Steamboat Springs High School, upstairs from where large crowds gather for basketball games and behind the rows of benches and dumbbells that cram the school's weight room, Steamboat wrestler Houston Mader can still feel the pressure.

"After last year, people are expecting a lot this year, which is fine," Mader said. "I don't mind the pressure."

Mader, who climbed through the ranks of the 135-pound weight division at last year's state tournament to finish fourth overall, said he is looking forward to the new season - and another shot at a state title.

But while Mader's finish - the best for the Sailors in a number of years - has given hope to many of the programs dedicated followers, it hasn't resulted in a jump in participation. Like many other wrestling programs in Northwest Colorado, Steamboat is struggling to attract top athletes.

But despite the fact the Sailors have only seven wrestlers to fill 14 weight classes, the coaches and athletes are optimistic about the future of the sport. Mader hopes another top finish will result in more athletes next season.

"This is not a huge team, but that doesn't matter," Mader said. "We are going to make this work. You have to make the best of whatever situation you are in, and this is our situation."

On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, coaches and volunteers outnumbered the only two Steamboat wrestlers in attendance. But Mader and teammate Derek Morris didn't let the low attendance dampen their enthusiasm for the upcoming season or their desire to work hard.

"These guys have looked good at practice," coach Sean McCarthy said. "They both worked hard in the offseason, and that already shows."

Mader is coming off shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum, and decided not to venture onto the football field this fall. The move means he will enter the wrestling season healthy and hungry.

"Yeah, I'm excited to get going again," Mader said. "It's been a long break, and I'm really looking forward to getting back on the mat."

The senior was the only Steamboat wrestler to qualify for state last year. This season, he will move up to 140 pounds, but his goal of bringing a state title to Steamboat remains unchanged.

"It's still very early, but I think that Houston has to be considered a contender to win a state championship," McCarthy said.

Morris will look to follow his senior teammate to the Pepsi Center in February. The sophomore is coming off a mediocre freshman season at 119 pounds. This season, he returns to the wrestling room a little bigger, stronger and more determined, according to his coach.

Thanks to an offseason growth spurt and a lot of work in the weight room, Morris is expected to fill the Sailors' 135-pound slot this season. McCarthy said the young wrestler spent a lot of time at camps and tournaments during the summer and will bring more experience to the team this year. The coach expects to see that pay off this winter.

"He's grown significantly," McCarthy said. "He's also more experienced and in better shape than last season."

McCarthy also hopes to get some help from a couple of other wrestlers. Freshman David Prader is expected to give the Sailors a lift at one of the lighter weight divisions - either 103 or 112 pounds. Sophomore Dalton Romick, a top junior wrestler, will return to the team after a two-year absence. The coach is holding out hope that Keith Curry also will return to the team this season along with a couple of other wrestlers who are still on the fence.

Steamboat will open the season Dec. 1, when it hosts the Carl Ramunno Invitational. The team also is scheduled to take part in tournaments in South Routt (Dec. 8) and West Grand (Dec. 15) before the holidays.

McCarthy said the limited number of wrestlers on this year's team means the squad will travel to more tournaments through the course of the season and has only a couple of dual meets on its schedule. In addition to the Carl Ramunno Invitational, the Steamboat wrestlers will be home Jan. 17 against Moffat County and Feb. 2 for the Routt County Showdown. The state meet begins at the Pepsi Center on Feb. 21.

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