Steamboat Springs Hayden wrestling coach Ty Zabel is pleased with his young squad.
The Tigers are coming off a successful Saturday, wrestling against and beating a string of larger, Class 3A and 4A opponents in Eaton. The high school team is now heading into its 2A regional tournament - today and Saturday in Grand Junction - healthy and firing on all cylinders.
At stake is a trip to the CHSAA State Wrestling Tournament, Feb. 21 to 23 in Denver. All it takes is a top-four weight-class finish.
But Zabel's not going to make any bold predictions about the Tigers' ability to qualify enough wrestlers to compete as a team at state. He can't afford to look past the regional competition.
"You can't depend on anything - even kids you beat twice this year are just as hungry," Zabel said of the 13 Western Region teams competing. "Usually, the top five teams at state are from our region, and the state championship's gone to our region the last five or six years."
That doesn't mean Zabel discounts some of his top wrestlers' chances. Mitch Doolin, at 31-6, is currently the county's top-ranked wrestler, earning a statewide No. 1 rank at 145 pounds, according to On The Mat Rankings.
"He's earned it," Zabel said. "He's a very focused kid, in school and in practice, he just wants more.
"And he's not just focused on making it (to state), he's focused on winning it."
Zabel also pointed to the hopeful prospects of Jake Magee at 152 pounds, Mitchell VeDepo at 130, and Zed Wheelock at 119, as well as freshmen Scott Armbruster at 103 and Treyben Letlow at 171.
"It's crunch time - but that's what we work for all year," Zabel said.
No easy matches
Hayden wrestlers like Coy Letlow, currently the state's No. 2-ranked 189 pounder, will not have easy assignments. Letlow is matched against familiar foe Dennis Morgan, ranked at No. 3 and one of three ranked Soroco wrestlers primed for regionals.
"That one could go either way every time," Zabel said.
Morgan joins Justin Iacovetto, ranked No. 2 at 112 pounds, and Levi Gonzales, who is No. 4 at 119 pounds, to form a talented trio of Rams wrestlers determined to make its return to state.
Soroco assistant coach Jay Whaley said that Gonzales has a tough task ahead. Without enough sanctioned weigh-ins at 119 pounds, he will have to wrestle up in the 125-pound class that features three of the state's top-four ranked wrestlers.
After their Saturday tournament in Hanna, Wyo., was canceled, the Rams regrouped this week and scheduled a couple of dual scrimmages, Monday at West Grand and Wednesday at North Park.
Steamboat Springs wrestlers also had their plans to head to Hanna cut short by weather. Now, Steamboat coach Sean McCarthy is hoping that brushes with mononucleosis will not hurt his two top wrestlers when the Sailors head to the 4A regionals, today and Saturday at Moffat County High School.
McCarthy said he thinks Houston Mader should be ready after the 140-pound senior's dominating 11-1 win against Moffat County's Matt Kincheloe on Feb. 7.
"That's the best he's looked all year," McCarthy said of Mader, who will face a stacked division that includes the state's No. 1-ranked wrestler, Montezuma-Cortez's Justin Samora, as well as tough competition from Delta and Rifle. "He's peaking at the right time."
Although 135-pound sophomore Derek Morris lost a recent match against Moffat County's Nathan Tomlin, McCarthy was confident that if Morris can produce more offense and "believe in his moves," he could easily earn a qualifying ticket to the big show. But in a region stacked with 17 teams, including some significant competition from Conifer and Evergreen, Morris also will have his share of challenges.
"He shouldn't take it for granted that he's a sophomore," McCarthy said. "The future is now, and he belongs on the podium."