The high school wrestling season begins tomorrow as the Pirates host Ignacio in a 6 p.m. dual meet.
Pagosa will bring a relatively young team to the mats — a team with a potential to surprise many opponents by the end of the regular schedule and to bring success to a tradition that goes back many years.
Any success will be well-deserved since the Intermountain League, long one of the strongest wrestling leagues in state 3A ranks, gets much stronger with the addition of Alamosa. The Mean Moose drop to 3A this year after a legendary run in Class 4A. The school’s program, under the tutelage of coach Gary Ramstetter, has won numerous championships, was rarely out of the 4A top 10, usually in the top five and frequently the state champion. The team has, on several occasions, been highly ranked on the national scene.
“With Alamosa joining the league,” said Pirate coach Dan Janowsky, “we will have five teams (Bayfield, Centauri and Monte Vista rounding out the lineup). Now the league is a little bigger and a lot tougher. In this league, we raise each other’s level and everyone does a lot of work between seasons to get an edge.
“I think we can compete,” said Janowsky, “but we’re going to have to grow up fast. We have nine of fourteen weights covered by someone who’s been at it a long time and, with some sophomores stepping up, we could have eleven places covered. We’ve come a long way getting ready for the year.”
The Pirates return six seniors this season. Among them, Dakota Miller, Will Appenzeller and Preston Sandoval advanced to the state tourney last year. Jordan Neulieb had a successful season, though it was hampered by illness, and Patrick Manzanares got in substantial varsity time. Haylon Meade found his way to varsity competition as well.
Juniors include Ty Lovato, Danny Shahan, Silas Thompson and Dane Murdock (all with significant varsity experience) as well as Carlos Brinkmann and Mike Rivas.
Sophomores Coby Close and Dalton Gregory made it to the regional tournament as freshmen last season and will be joined by 12 other sophomores this year.
There are 13 freshmen rounding out the current roster of 38 wrestlers.
This year’s schedule features a lot of action close to home, and all of it tough.
The Pirates will compete in five tournaments: Bayfield, Buena Vista, Piedra Vista, Alamosa, Centauri, and at their own Rocky Mountain Invitational. The Rocky Mountain Duals, held the night before the invitational, will feature six schools; the Rocky Mountain Invitational will include 17 teams. Pagosa will also fight dual matches with each league opponent.
“Based on their performances last year,” said the coach, “Alamosa and Centauri will probably be ranked in the top five to start the season. Bayfield is bringing back some state placers. Monte Vista was a freshman-based team last year so, as a sophomore-based team this year, they will definitely be better.
“There are no easy spots on our schedule, and that makes it fun. If someone beats you, you know they’re good. When you best them, you’ve accomplished something. We could be a sleeper. We might not be a preseason favorite, but we’re not going to let that stop us. We’re going to get as good as we can. The nucleus is here for us to be a real surprise.”
His athletes seem primed for the challenge. Janowsky said, “There’s a good vibe in the practice room. Our seniors are good leaders; they’re hungry, and they’re assertive in the practice room and our young guys are real eager.”
The first test will be at the PSHS gym tomorrow, at the dual with Ignacio
“At first,” said the coach, “there’ll be a lot of shuffling of the lineup — some guys haven’t made it to weight yet. This is a good time for some of our young wrestlers to get early varsity experience.”
The next day, the team travels to compete at the Bayfield tournament. The Pirates host Cortez for a dual on Dec. 7, with action beginning at 6 p.m. On Dec. 11, the Pirates are at the Buena Vista tourney, then go to Piedra Vista Dec. 17 and 18 to wind up the pre-holiday schedule.
“We’ve got a lot of wrestling before the break,” said Janowsky. “We’re doing some different things, and I like what’s going on.”