Routt County wrestling teams eager to start season
Steamboat Springs — There’s no dominater, no sure thing to win tournaments each weekend or challenge to make the state championship match. The wrestling teams of Routt County high schools don’t return with all the experience that they have had in past years, but coaches of the three area teams are excited and confident, nonetheless. In fact, they see programs that are as strong as they’ve been in recent memory, and plenty of potential for a few elite athletes to step up.
Steamboat: Taking the next step
Shane Yeager as coach has rebuilt the Steamboat Springs High School wrestling program from nearly nothing in the past six years. Still, the team hasn’t been able to convert its success getting kids on the mats — they’ll have 18 out this year, up from last year — to success on the podium, at least when it matters the most.
Steamboat has sent only two wrestlers to state since Yeager took over what literally was a two-athlete program in 2008. Now, with three experienced seniors, the Sailors are hoping to reverse that trend in a big way.
Connor O’Brien returns at 182 pounds. Brandon Yeager is back at 195, and Cole Sittig again will wrestle in the heavyweight slot.
“They have to have confidence, to know what’s going on and believe in themselves,” Yeager said. “That’s the key for all three of them.”
The team as a whole still is young. It will field two juniors, led by veteran Dylan Wallace at 170 pounds. There’s one sophomore and a dozen freshmen.
“They are a bunch of guys who have wrestled with me for a long time, who are coming up through the pee-wee ranks,” Yeager said. “They did really well in junior high and now will get their feet wet at the high school level.”
Just how quickly those rookies adjust to what is a major change from junior high to high school will dictate how well the squad does in a front-loaded schedule. Steamboat first hits the mats Tuesday, with a trip to Summit, then duals again Thursday at Glenwood Springs. Finally it caps its first week of the season with a trip to a tournament at Middle Park High School in Granby.
Hayden: Rebuilding the core
Rare has been the year when the Hayden High School wrestling program didn’t return at least one state placer. In fact, it hasn’t returned fewer than two since 2007.
Still, the team is not short on state experience. Of the five Tigers who made the trip to Denver last year, four return, led by senior Journey Vreeman. Juniors Tanner Guire, Kent Miller and Taylor Lewis also are back, as is freshman Judd Magee.
“We don’t have as much experience when it comes to the finals at the state tournament, but we have a couple kids who are really capable of doing exactly what kids have done in the past,” coach Chad Jones said.
Jones said the team is as large as it’s been in years, and there is plenty of potential in those kids. The team had 14 athletes officially a year ago, but only six who were fit to take the mat by the end of the season. This year, there are 15 out.
“Last year with injuries, sickness and concussions, we couldn’t keep them in the room. We haven’t had fewer than 13 at a practice this year. We’re actually going to fill all the weights or be close,” he said. “We will be competitive. I’m excited as a coach.”
Hayden’s season gets underway Saturday at the Middle Park Tournament.
Soroco: Starting with seniors
Both of Soroco’s 2012 and 2013 state qualifiers return, and coach Jay Whaley said they’re stepping up the way any coach would hope.
Colton Martindale will wrestle at 126 pounds this year, and Cody Constine will be at 195.
“They are really leading the team, which is nice to have,” Whaley said.
Nate Ragan, meanwhile, fell just short, finishing fifth at regional, and he too will be a major factor for Soroco this season.
The Rams have nine wrestlers out this season, a small bump up from previous years. With three freshmen and two sophomores, there’s plenty of learning going on in Oak Creek ahead of Saturday’s opening tournament in Middle Park.
“We have some green kids and others who are middle of the road in terms of experience,” Whaley said. “We have a lot of doubled up weights right now, but we will have challenges this week and hopefully end up with eight or nine weights filled.
“They’re good kids, and I tell them every year, wrestling is just a tool we use to make a bunch of boys into men. It does a pretty good job of that.”
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Editor’s note: The story was updated at 8:33 p.m.