Hotchkiss entered the week fifth in 2A, just ahead of Paonia and behind Rocky Ford, Centauri, Meeker and Norwood/Nucla, respectively.
The Bulldogs got up-close and personal looks at every one of those teams but No. 1 Rocky Ford this past week, and Hotchkiss showed that it can compete on the mat with all of them.
Hotchkiss bested a 21-team field last Saturday when the Bulldogs placed five grapplers in the final round to capture the title at the prestigious Screamin' Eagle tournament in Paonia.
"Honestly, we worked real hard during the week and everyone started figuring things out," Hotchkiss sophomore Devin Curtis said. "Everything's starting to click together and it feels pretty good."
Curtis was one of the five Bulldogs to get to the finals after he battled to the championship round at 195 pounds. None of the Hotchkiss five won their final matches, but their effort was enough for the team title in a very competitive tournament that featured a raucous atmosphere in the Paonia gym.
"You try not to think about it and just try to wrestle," Curtis said. "They say it's like a regional but you just go out there and wrestle. We're there; we need a little bit more improvement, but we're there. We gave them a run for their money."
Sergio Campos (106 pounds), Colton Cordova (113) and Colton Hall (126) also all finished second for the Bulldogs in the tournament. Austin Todd at 145 pounds was the final Hotchkiss grappler to make the last match.
"I thought we wrestled really well. We battled," said Hotchkiss coach Richard Flores. "Every year, every tournament you have some kids that hold their eyes up and show you what they're made of, and some kids that kind of fall down, and that's natural. But overall they did a great job and wrestled tough."
Hotchkiss won the tournament with 229 points. Meeker was second at 210.5, Centauri was third with 204 points and the host Paonia Eagles finished fourth with 203.5 points. Cedaredge capped a strong showing by Delta County teams and finished fifth with 136.5 points.
In a tri meet the night before at Hotchkiss, the Bulldogs beat Norwood/Nucla and fell to a very good Meeker Cowboys team that is ranked third in the state. Overall, Hotchkiss stacked up really well against the best teams in 2A over the course of the weekend.
"I think we're there. We gotta learn how to beat the tough kids," Flores said. "When you get thrown up against kids you know you can beat, that's normal, but the kids that you shouldn't beat, that you need to get over that hump, that's something that we have to work on is just beating the toughest kids out there."
Other finishers who had strong tournaments for Hotchkiss were third-place finishers Wade Katzdorn (160) and Colton DeLuzio (132).
Finishing fourth for the Bulldogs were Chris Lovato (120), Kaden Murray-Owens (152) and Conner Collins (heavyweight).
Kale Litzelman completed the list of outstanding Bulldogs at the tournament with his fifth-place finish at 170 pounds.
Flores was left shaking his head that five Bulldogs got to the finals and none of them won, but he was delighted with the outcome of the tournament.
With only three weeks till the state tournament in Denver, Hotchkiss is only going to get better.
"We all wrestled tough," Flores said. "I was real proud of our effort."
The Bulldogs wrestle a dual at Olathe tomorrow night and are at the Center tournament on Saturday.