Last week Eric Fredrickson told wrestling coach Roman Gutierrez that he realistically didn't think the team had much of a chance to win the state championship.
A few days and a regional title later, Fredrickson has changed his mind.
"Before regionals I don't think any of us thought we had much of a chance," Fredrickson said. "But we beat a good team in Broomfield and everybody wrestled well, so I think it showed how much we want it."
Fredrickson's lack of confidence was based on a difficult regular season for the three-time defending state champions. Yet despite losing their first dual in two years, finishing a distant seventh place at the Warrior Classic and having three seniors quit, the Bulldogs' three month season can still be redeemed by three days of wrestling in Denver.
"We're no longer skeptical about our chances," senior Deric Dill said. "I think our win in Broomfield says a lot about our program and how we wrestle well when we need to."
The Bulldogs had five regional champions and 11 wrestlers qualify for state from Region 3. The Broomfield Eagles had two champs and also qualified 11. A team race for the title is expected to be between the top two teams from Region 3, Alamosa, who is taking nine wrestlers, Pueblo South (10 wrestlers), and Fort Morgan (seven wrestlers).
Fort Morgan, last year's runner up, has been ranked at the top of the Class 4A standings all year. The Mustangs have maintained their top ranking mainly because of the efforts from four wrestlers ranked in the state's top three.
Moffat County has an opportunity to get a leg up against Fort Morgan with three matches against them in the first round.
Top ranked Scott Garoutte (36-2) at 215 pounds will take on Mitch Hayward (18-13). Shayne Zimmerman (16-11) will wrestle Fort Morgan's top-ranked Jim Marek (35-5) at 152 pounds. So if the rankings play out the swing match will be between Fredrickson and Cody Weitzel at 119 pounds.
"If we can get two of three matches from Fort Morgan the first day that will be big," Gutierrez said. "That's the kind of wrestling we need to win."
Nineteen seasons of experience and five state titles give Gutierrez a pretty good idea of what it will take.
"Broomfield and Alamosa will have the lead early," he said. "But if we can get seven or eight into the quaterfinals and four into the semis we can stay with people."
Fredrickson is the only three-time state wrestler on the team. He finished sixth last year but is in one of the toughest weights this year at 119. The class has five returning state placers including last year's 112 state champion and 119 runner-up.
"I don't want to get into wrestle backs in that bracket," he said. "Staying up top as long as you can is important."
The five regional champions going into the tournament hope to stay on the winner's side of the bracket at least through Friday for the quarter and semifinals. At that point the team race will start to shake out.
"If we're going to win, we have to have guys winning at least once when they get to the losers' bracket," Dill said. "As a senior I hope to at least get top six."
Challenging matchups for the Bulldogs in the first round will be Levi Weber, 25-15, against Greely West's Matt Behrens, 33-2. Senior Jody Moncrief, 9-11, will face Falcon's Jeremy Osheim 33-6 in the 189 bracket.
Other matches that are considered close to even are 112-pound sophomore Steven Englert, 13-5, against Westminster's Chris Saykally, and Dill's match against Pueblo's Teddy Garcia, 21-17.
"We can't overlook anybody and I think I've learned that as the year has gone on," Dill said. "There won't be any easy matches."
Dill, Fredrickson, Garoutte, sophomore Korey Kostur and senior Kaleb Brown have been to the Pepsi Center before.
"Those five have to be our leaders," Gutierrez said. "They did a good job of rallying the team at regionals and we need them again."
The other two wrestlers with top seeds are senior Jesse Brookshire (130) and junior Brent Chamberlain (171).
"Those top seeds who are rookies are our wild cards," Gutierrez said. "Our depth will be important."
Wrestling starts tonight at 7 p.m.
David Pressgrove can be reached at 824-7031 or email@example.com