The Pirate wrestling season begins Friday, and this year’s team features senior athletes with extensive state tourney experience and excellent chances to finish the season with medals, as well as several other members who could figure in the race for post-season honors.
Three tested seniors lead the way for the Pirates.
Steven Smith takes to the mat at 125 pounds to start the year, following Class 3A state tourney appearances at 112 as a sophomore and a sixth-place finish at 119 as a junior.
Joe DuCharme returns for his final season. The Pirate qualified for the state tourney as a freshman at 130, finished sixth at 145 as a sophomore and took third last season at 160 — the weight he will wrestle this year.
Mike Smith finishes an illustrious career this year, likely to start the season at 171. Smith was sixth in Class 3A at 152 as a sophomore and last year was second at the weight at the state tourney.
“All three of these guys did a significant amount of work over the summer to get better,” said Pirate Coach Dan Janowsky.
Other state qualifiers returning this season include Caleb Pringle. The senior went to the state event last season at 135.
Cole Mastin qualified for state last year at 130. The senior will return to action this year at 140.
Others with varsity experience are Waylon Lucero (152) and Dakota Miller (130), with Wes Laverty, Tino Lister and Ryan Hamilton battling for spots on the roster. Newcomer, senior Jackson Walsh could give it a run at 145 or 152.
Another contender is freshman Jeremy Smith. “One of them will have to rise to the top early on, and as the year goes on two might need to step up,” said Janowsky.
“We have a group of guys who will compete for a spot at 189 — Garrett Fitch, Jordan Neulieb and Clinton Manzanares. And, at 215, we have a group of three who are likely to fill the spot — Manzanares, Preston Sandoval and Levi Irving. Any one of them could wrestle 215. All could also go at 275. And, one of our 89s could compete at 215.”
For now, Andrew Clark seems ready to go at 119, and could end up at 112. Also competing for a spot at 112 are Matt Fisher (out of action until a cast is removed) and E.J. Romero
Silas Thompson could compete at times this season at 103 but, though the freshman exhibits skills, he is light for the weight class at present.
The season begins with a 6 p.m. dual meet Friday, at home, against Ignacio.
While the Bobcats go to Class 2A this year, the traditional rival brings some formidable athletes to the Pagosa dual. Casey Haga, last year’s second-place finisher at 112 is back, as is Joshua Pleginger at 125, Raudel Lucero at 145, and Abel Velasquez at 189.
Janowsky believes his team will face a battle against the Bobcats Friday, and might fare better in tournaments this year than at dual meets. “Duals are fun,” he said. “I feel like our dual meet lineup might be good, but we’ll definitely have a decent tournament team.
“We’ve got five seniors returning, seven seniors total. The five guys coming back from the state tourney will form the core of things. Three of them give us a pretty good start in tournaments with points. Any success is going to be up to the other seniors, and to our up-and-coming juniors. If they can pick up tournament points, we’re going to be deep into the competition. But, we can’t win it with three guys.”
The Pirates will have plenty of chances at tournaments and duals to get sharp prior to the post-season.
The Intermountain League is down to four teams with the departure of Ignacio, and the league has few weaknesses. The Pirates dual each league team this season.
“Centauri is the number-one team in the state in my mind,” said Janowsky. “They have a good number of returning qualifiers, a state champ, a state finalist, a lot of points returning.
“With Centauri, Monte, Bayfield and us, you have potentially three of the top ten teams in the state. Every one of us can be in the top ten.”
The region this year is equally tough.
“In our region,” said the coach, “throw Florence in there. They have a very good returning team, probably a top five team. And other schools in the region bring quality individuals at any given spot.
“It’s one of those seasons when you have a lot of optimism.”
The Pirates finish off the pre-holiday schedule with the Buena Vista Tournament on Dec. 13, and the annual trip to the Warrior Classic in Grand Junction Dec. 19-20.