Hotchkiss head wrestling coach Richard Flores expects between 15-18 wrestlers to be certified for the season.
Five state qualifiers return to the mat this season: seniors Presley Pene, 132, and Sergio Campos, 138; junior Jace Peebles, 170; and sophomores Traycer Hall, 145, and Robert Cochran, 126.
Also making the early-season roster are seniors Landen Mayberry (113), Tyrel Chamberlain (138), and Teagan Sommer (170); juniors JD Miller (145), Ethan Guy (160), and Brian Gonzalez (182); sophomores Anthony Scanlon (106), Hector Elizalde (220), and Christian Matus (285); and freshmen Sawyer Handy (106), Drayden Taylor (120), and Justin Mattison (152).
On the Mat ranks Hotchkiss 11th in Class 2A. With six returning wrestlers ranked in the top 10. Traycer Hall, who placed fifth as a freshman, is ranked second; Landen Mayberry, who placed fifth in state as a sophomore, and Robert Cochran, who had a 27-12 record and qualified for state as a freshman, are both ranked eighth; Campos, Pene and Peebles all come in at No. 5.
With perennial 2A powerhouses like Paonia and Cedaredge and some tough tournaments and 3A/4A teams including Delta, "We have a very competitive schedule," said Flores.
The Bulldogs opened the season Saturday with a 3-2 win-loss record at the Mesa Maverick Duals (43-22 win over Montrose, 57-12 win over Coal Ridge, and 36-33 win over Grand Valley; a 57-10 loss to Junction Central and 41-30 loss to Moffat County). With a handful of wrestlers not cleared to compete, the Bulldogs wrestled in 11 weights and scored 176 points to finish eighth. Peebles and Matus went undefeated for the tournament. Matus, who scored 30 points, won both matches by fall. Pene was 3-1 with two pins and a win by decision. At 160, Guy was 2-1 and won both matches by fall.
With most wrestlers winning two or more matches by forfeit, Miller, who at 145 pounds was 3-2 for the day, was the only Hotchkiss athlete to wrestle the full five matches. "Those early-season matches are important," especially for the younger wrestlers, said Flores.
Because off-season matches can determine a wrestler's success, the Bulldogs got some valuable mat time in this summer, with a big focus on the Adams State University camp, said Flores.
Hotchkiss hosts its home opener at 6 p.m. Friday against 3A Moffat County. Its next home dual is on Jan. 10 against Olathe. It hosts Cedaredge Jan. 24, and dual Meeker and Norwood at home on Jan. 25.
All other duals and tournaments are on the road, starting at 9 a.m. Saturday with the annual Delta Panther Invitational. Last year, out of 16 teams, Hotchkiss finished third.
This year's numbers are down from 22 last season, and 28 in the 2016-17 season. Just three freshmen came out for the team. While that's disappointing, "You focus on the kids who are here," said Flores. "Everybody in the mat room right now, they're having a good time with it, because they're hard workers."
Flores said he's focusing on instilling in student-athletes good life lessons, "like how to work hard, how to be creative, how to give it everything you have," he said. "They're going to impress me with their ability to do that." For the remainder of the regulation season, he said, "It's all practice until February."