The Moffat County High School wrestling team has heard the whispers.
A local contention is starting to emerge that the team is down this year and may not be able defend its three straight state championships. But the wrestlers don't need to hear it from someone else to know they have some work to do.
"We didn't wrestle well at the Warrior (Classic in Grand Junction) so what people are talking about makes sense right now," said junior Eric Fredrickson (119-pound weight class). "But we're a better team than we showed at the Warrior."
The Bulldogs hope that Friday and Saturday they can quiet the whispers and regain some confidence as they host the highly competitive Dogfight Duals.
"If these guys thought they were mediocre they'd practice like it," said coach Roman Gutierrez. "But they came back from break wrestling like they had something to prove."
Wrestlers with something to prove are the four seniors who didn't make the medal round at the Warrior.
"I think some of us made mental mistakes that shouldn't happen anymore," said senior Derek Dill (125). "The Warrior was a good time to make those mistakes because what matters is that we're better by the time state comes."
The road to state gets started again Friday for the Bulldogs.
The Duals consist of 10 teams, nine from Colorado and one from Wyoming. There are two pools of five teams with each pool facing each other in a round-robin format Friday night and Saturday morning. After all of the duals are completed, the top two wrestlers in each weight class from both pools will match up for a mini-tournament Saturday.
"There aren't going to be very many blow-out duals," Gutierrez said. "The competition is getting stiffer."
Teams coming to the tournament are Adams City, Grand Junction Central, Cody, Wyo., Mountain View, Widefield, Meeker, Valley, Florence and Denver East. The first four teams are in Moffat County's pool. There are 11 wrestlers ranked in the top four for Class 4A in the tournament and the top-ranked 3A and 2A teams will be here in Valley and Meeker.
Dill's weekend won't be any easier than what he faced in the Warrior.
"I've got three of the top five wrestlers in 4A here," he said. "But if I'm going to get it done, it starts this weekend."
Returning wreslters who made it into the final four last year were Fredrickson (third), senior Kaleb Brown (second), senior Jason Mosher (second), junior Shayne Zimmerman (second), junior Brent Chamberlain (third) and junior Scott Garoutte (third).
The Bulldogs slipped to fifth place in Class 4A after the Warrior and will get a chance to move up if they defeat third-ranked Widefield. Conversely seventh-ranked Moun-tain View and 10th-ranked Adams City come in with the hope to knock the Bulldogs further down the rankings.
"We have all 14 classes filled this weekend and we've got all of our key guys back," Gutierrez said. "I think Widefield has the best balance in the tournament, but it will be interesting to see how things pan out Saturday in the mini-tournament."
The first dual starts Friday at 4 pm for the Bulldogs and they will go again at 5:30 and 7 p.m. Their opponents Friday night will be Adams City, Grand Junction Central and Cody.
Before the Duals the Bulldogs will scrimmage Class 5A Centaurus tonight for a warm up for both teams. Centaurus is on its way to a tournament in Vernal, Utah.
David Pressgrove can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org