When the word "January" is mentioned in front of a Moffat County High School wrestler, his natural reaction is to look for the nearest set of stairs and start running up them. Then he snaps out of it and talks about how the by-product of the 16 practices after Christmas break have molded state championship teams.
"It's pretty much non-stop for us the first couple of weeks," senior Jesse Brookshire said. "We're either wrestling live or out in the hall conditioning. It's tough but makes us (the team) better."
Coach Roman Gutierrez likes to think that January is what separates his team from the rest of the state.
"That month helps shape them into thoroughbreds," Gutierrez said. "It makes it possible for us to out-work people."
The Bulldogs started the season on a high, winning the Green Valley Duals in Las Vegas. A 38-36 defeat of Temecula Valley, Calif., in the final avenged the Bulldog's only loss in a dual in two years, which came from the Grizzlies.
Then the team struggled at the highly competitive Warrior Classic in Grand Junction. After winning four consecutive Warriors, the Bulldogs finished seventh and were unable to qualify any wrestlers for a final.
"I don't think the Warrior hurt our confidence," junior Brent Chamberlain said. "We just know we have to work harder now to get into the state title fight."
Gutierrez said he thought that there were about six teams that have proven they will be in the hunt for a title when the state tournament starts in February.
"Pueblo South has outstanding balance," Gutierrez said. "But all of the teams are going to take points away from each other and it will be close."
Other than Pueblo South, Gutierrez thought that Widefield, Broomfield, Alamosa and Fort Morgan would be teams threatening to take away the title
from the Bulldogs.
Sickness and injuries have hampered the Bulldogs early and with a two-week break Gutierrez hopes that his guys will be closer to full strength for the conditioning phase of the season.
"We missed two guys in the Warrior because of injuries and illness," he said. "It will be nice when everybody is healthy."
Collectively, the Bulldogs went 127-45 in December. The most successful wrestlers for the Blue and White were junior Scott Garoutte (215 pounds), 13-1, sophomore Korey Kostur (135), 13-2, Brookshire (130), 14-2, junior Eric Fredrickson, (119), 13-2 and senior Jason Mosher, (145), 11-3. The Bulldogs currently have nine wrestlers ranked in the top 10 in Class 4A. Garoutte and Kostur are the only ones ranked above the top six with the 215-pounder ranked first and the sophomore ranked third.
"We hit a little bit of a stumbling block in Grand Junction," Gutierrez said. "Our positive things have been Jesse and Korey wrestling well."
He also said he was expecting the seniors to be better leaders the second half of the season.
The Bulldogs will learn fast what a healthy team is capable of with their first action in January. Their home tournament, the Dogfight Duals, Jan. 9-10, will have 50 wrestlers ranked in the top 10 in their respective classes. Meeker, Valley, Widefield, Mountain View and Adams City are all ranked with Meeker, first in 2A, Valley, first in 3A and Widefield, third in 4A. The Bulldogs are currently fifth in Class 4A.
"We have to start wrestling for the team," junior heavyweight Kyle Fredrickson. "There have been some losses that shouldn't have happened and can't happen now."
The Dogfight Duals are always competitive but it's been a number of years that the Bulldogs weren't the favorite to win.
"It's going to be fun," Gutierrez said. "It's the start of the home stretch."
David Pressgrove can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org