It is a building year for the Pirate wrestling team, but one that could hold great promise for success and that could offer a chance to surprise many opponents by season’s end.
Last year saw the Pirates bring home two individual state championships, an individual third-place state finish, and sixth place among 48 teams in Colorado Class 3A.
This year, most of the veterans among the six wrestlers who qualified for state are gone, leaving Coach Dan Janowsky with spaces to fill and an unusual situation concerning the weights at which he has a surplus of athletes.
The Pirates began practice Nov. 12, but started sessions lacking members due to prolonged football and cross country seasons. Follow that with the holiday break, during which many athletes travel with their families, and the squad is hustling to make up for lost time.
The unusual situation?
The Pirate practice room includes at least five wrestlers weighing between 105 and 110 pounds — an unprecedented occurrence for Janowsky — as well as at least four, maybe five, athletes grouped in the 220- to 230-pound range.
Where Pagosa generally shows a surplus of contenders — at 125, 130 and 135 — there are few wrestlers available at the start of the season.
“Time will probably take care of that,” said Janowsky, “but it is a big change from what we usually experience.”
Janowsky noted there are no state placers returning to this year’s team and that the squad features only four seniors.
Preston Sandoval qualified for the state tournament last year and will return to the mat this season at 215 or 275. Will Appenzeller, a transfer from Ignacio who will be eligible to compete in January, went to state last season and will wrestle at 140 for the Pirates.
“We have a handful of guys coming back who were fifth at regionals last season,” said the coach, “and one match away from going to state.”
Veterans returning to the team this year include senior Waylon Lucero, who could go at 152 or 160; Jordan Neuleib, who will battle at either 171 or 189; Dakota Miller, who will move up from 125 to 135 or 140 this season; Patrick Manzanares, who did well at 215 last year and could go at a more natural weight for him this year — 189 or 171; and Patrick Manzanares, who could fight at 189 or 215.
Ryan Hamilton, a senior with extensive experience, will be back at 145 or 152. Andrew Clark, another senior with experience, could fight at 119 or 125. Tino Lister is recovering from an injury suffered during the football season and, when ready, is looking at a spot at 145 or 152.
“We have a very promising freshman group with some of them ready to help out right away — Dalton Gregory, Slade Wiley, Koby Close and Chris Wade —and several others that we think will mature into very good wrestlers,” said Janowsky.
Thus far, the Pirate roster includes 40 hopefuls, with contenders at all weights but a few.
“We have a lot of competition,” said Janowsky. “We have balance and the athletes, but we lack the experience and the seasoning. What we do have, though, is time. We have the potential to be a surprising team, but it could take a while to develop. We will keep our eyes on incremental progress. If the wins are there early in the year, that’s great, but this is not something to get obsessed with early in the season.”
That season will include a rough go-round of dual matches with other teams in the Intermountain League — one of the consistently tough Class 3A leagues in the state.
Last year’s state champs, the Centauri Falcons, return a deep and tested lineup and look to be ready for another run at the state title.
Bayfield has a number of state qualifiers and placers coming back this year and figure to be in the mix at all levels.
Monte Vista could put a relatively young team on the mats this year, but the program has the tradition to be formidable, regardless of circumstances.
“Our league is tough, and our region, with Florence included, is tough,” said Janowsky. “I think we can become a team that will be tough at duals and at mid-level tournaments. Our challenge is to develop guys who can win tournaments regularly. That’s what you need for success at the end of the season. It should be a lot of fun. We’ll have some exciting dual matches and, for sure, we’ll provide some entertainment.”
The season gets underway with a 6 p.m. dual meet against Ignacio, at Ignacio, tomorrow night.
A dual meet tournament at Bayfield follows on Saturday. That tourney will include the Pirates, the hosts, Ignacio, Cortez, Piedra Vista and Dove Creek. Pagosa will get in five duals, beginning at 9:30 a.m.