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Bulldogs defending regional champs, have state title aspirations

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Photo by Eric Goold Hotchkiss head coach Richard Flores directs a pair of Bulldog grapplers during a preseason practice.

The wrestling team from Hotchkiss High School hopes to build upon its success.

The Bulldogs were region champs last year, winning the 2A Region 1 crown and knocking Paonia off the top of the regional pile for the first time in years.

But coach Richard Flores thinks the Bulldogs might have peaked at the wrong time.

"I kind of learned a lesson the past few years about peaking at the right time," Flores said at practice last week. "That year is in the past and we're just looking to make things better than they were last year.

"We were really excited with that performance. Then we went to state and just didn't have the tournament that we wanted to at state," Flores added. "We're going to work on peaking at the right time, being excited at the right time towards the end of that season."

Hotchkiss qualified a region-high 11 wrestlers for the state tournament and finished eighth overall in 2A at the premier wrestling event at the Pepsi Center in February.

Nearly all of those 11 will return to lead the Bulldogs on the mats this season. Like last year, the Bulldogs will benefit from a large turnout as 28 wrestlers came out for the team this season.

"Right now everybody has really high spirits, they're feeling pretty confident," Flores said. "My young kids coming in are showing quite a bit of potential so we're enjoying ourselves. We're having a good time."

The Bulldogs are led by returning state qualifiers Conner Collins (heavyweight) and Joe Nault (220 pounds). They'll also have a strong contender at 195 pounds in returning state qualifier Devan Curtis.

Senior Parker Katzdorn will hit the mats at 182 pounds for the Bulldogs, returning after missing a year with a dislocated elbow.

His brother, junior Wade Katzdorn, qualified for state last year at 171 pounds and hopes to make it back this season.

The best Bulldog at state last year was Sergio Campos, who got to the semifinals in the 106 pound division and ended up finishing third. He'll be back and even better as a sophomore and might move up to 113 while Landon Mayberry will move into the 106 slot.

Flores said he expects a weekly battle at the 120 pound division, where Presley Pene and Taylor White are a pair of tough Bulldogs sophomores.

Colton DeLuzio and Colton Hall both qualified for state and are back this year for Hotchkiss along with state qualifiers Chris Lovato and Kale Litzelman, giving the Bulldogs a lot of depth this season.

"We're spread out pretty well," Flores said. "With the kids that we have, we have kids that are hard workers and if some kid gets sick we have enough confidence in the other kids behind them that they'll do a good job.

"They have a lot of potential, it's just up to them to keep high spirits and it's up to us to push them in the right direction," Flores added.

Early season practice is all about attitude.

"This is such a hard sport that you don't really want to crack down too hard on them at this time of year," Flores said. "Your expectations are there, the will and guts that you need have got to be there, but they have to have a little bit of fun or they're going to hate it coming down the stretch."

The disappointment at state last year might motivate this year's version of the Bulldogs to learn from their mistakes and continue to get better.

"I hope so. You can't make their decisions for them, but the way they're looking right now, these kids are on a mission," Flores said. "I'm hoping that by the end of this season we have 28 hungry wrestlers that want to win."

Hotchkiss went 4-1 at the annual Maverick Duals this past weekend.

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