Steamboat Pilot & Today sports reporter and photographer Joel Reichenberger can be reached at 871-4253 or jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com.
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Denver Watching the Hayden wrestling team come of age has been fascinating.
The squad was good - just good - five weeks ago.
Ty Zabel turned on the classic coach speak at that time, saying he was preparing his team to be ready when it mattered the most - to peak at the right time.
Only, it didn't turn out to be "coach speak" at all.
Hayden won five weight classes at the Western Slope League tournament, then four at the regional championships two weeks later.
The nine wrestlers who qualified for state showed the team was not just a few senior juggernauts, but a deep and strong squad that, just as Zabel predicted, came of age exactly at the right time.
And the team really seemed to adopt Zabel's tough attitude.
Toughness defined the Tigers all weekend.
Hayden wrestlers rarely were outclassed. Even those who left the tournament with consecutive losses - Scott Armbruster and Nick and Koleman Williams - fought well in their matches.
Senior 152-pounder Jake Magee, however, might have exemplified the point as well as anyone.
Compared to the four wrestlers who advanced with Magee to the championship semifinals, he had a dismal finish. He lost three consecutive matches and fell to sixth place from a chance to wrestle for first.
Lukas Wiggins, of Paonia, who knocked Magee from the championship bracket Friday night, has handled the Hayden senior several times this season. Magee pushed him to the limit Friday, and Wiggins advanced only by scoring late in a 5-2 victory.
It was the same story Saturday. Magee wrestled tough. He lost a 4-3 decision against Choncey Taylor, of Burlington, to fall to the fifth-place match, then lost there again after a long, hard match.
He wasn't pinned for the entire tournament. That's tough to say for anyone who loses three times at a tournament as difficult as state.
And I thought all that before learning that Magee broke his hand in his first bout Saturday. "Tough" barely does that kind of performance justice.
Hayden's fans were as impressive as its athletes during the tournament.
Of all the support Soroco freshman Lauryn Bruggink got in her quest to become the first girl to win a state tournament match, the support that touched me the most came from Hayden.
I've covered plenty of Hayden versus Soroco events this year and seen how competitive that rivalry is.
That truth doesn't extend to the wrestling mats, though. Hayden supported Bruggink throughout the season and seemed to take nearly as much pride in her success as Soroco fans did. Soroco supporters, meanwhile, always returned the favor.