Despite being shorthanded, the Hotchkiss Bulldogs wrestling team is showing signs of depth, ability and skill that might pay off big in the end.
In their first dual after the Christmas break, the Bulldogs battled North Fork Valley rival Paonia to a 30-30 score on the mat, but fell in the final tally 42-30 because of two open weights.
"We were missing two of our starting seniors," Bulldogs coach Richard Flores said. "We only have two seniors on the team and they had a hard time coming back from Christmas, and that happens. When we get those guys back in the lineup, we're going to be pretty tough."
In front of a packed gym at Hotchkiss High School last Thursday night, the Bulldogs were in the dual all night and got pin victories from Colton Hall at 126 pounds, Wade Katzdorn (160), Connor Collins (heavyweight), Sergio Campos (106) and from Chris Lovato at 120.
Hotchkiss got within three points of Paonia's lead at 33-30, but Colton DeLuzio fell in a grueling 2-0 decision to Paonia's Sackett Chesnik and the Bulldogs' Chase Hiatt was pinned by Clay Campbell in the final match of the night at 138 pounds.
"I was really happy," Flores said. "Just the quality of no quitting and keep going, I was happy with those boys. And we had new kids, kids that were new to varsity and they never quit. I was really impressed with them."
Hotchkiss gave away 12 points with open divisions at 145 pounds and 182.
Bulldogs Presley Pene (113), Kayden Owens (152) and Joe Nault (220) all fell to their Eagles opposites by pinfall.
"We're missing a couple kids but you've got to move forward," Flores said. "You're going to have injuries, kids will get sick. You just worry about the kids you have and move them forward and get a win, and that's what we're focused on."
Hotchkiss sophomore Devin Curtis battled Paonia's Jaden Miller at 195 pounds, losing in a tough 3-0 decision that could have gone the other way at any moment.
Bulldogs junior Kale Litzelman gutted out a 7-2 decision win over Eagles senior Jeramiah Hillman.
The effort showed by the Bulldogs thrilled their coach, who was still excited after the dual was over.
"It's the energy and the willingness to be a warrior," Flores said. "Too many times you see kids lay down on their back and just give up. The best and most exciting matches are when two guys go out there, and they both believe they're gonna win and they're never gonna give up, then you have a war."
"And watching wars on a mat, or in a cage, or in a boxing ring, wars are fun to watch," Flores said. "When they show that entertainment quality, I just love it."
Even though it might have been heartbreaking for Bulldogs fans, Flores did not lament the close dual defeat.
"Winning the dual would have been fun, but that's not our goal," Flores said. "Our goal is to win the individual battles, and then down the road to peak at regionals and state."
Eagle Valley Champs
Hotchkiss kept its momentum rolling and won the 19-team Eagle Valley Invitational wrestling tournament held in Gypsum on Saturday, Jan. 9.
Individual champions for the Bulldogs were Sergio Campos at 106 pounds, Austin Todd (145) and Wade Katzdorn (160).
Second-place finishers for Hotchkiss were Connor Collins (heavyweight), Devin Curtis (195), Kale Litzelman (170), Colton Hall (126), Chris Lovato (120) and Colton Cordova (113).
The Bulldogs next hit the mat on Thursday at a Tri-Meet in Grand Valley.