David Pressgrove: Suffocated by success

LAS VEGAS -- This week is good for Moffat County wrestlers and the sportswriter who covers them.

I've been fortunate enough to have my bosses send me with the team all four years I've been in Craig.

This week is one of my two favorite weeks of the year at my job. The other is any other week that a Moffat County team is in the state playoffs.

The annual trip, which is well-attended by Moffat County fans, is a chance for the Bulldog grapplers to get out of Craig in the winter.

The country bumpkins get a chance to see the big city. Every year there has been at least one wrestler who had never flown before.

The Bulldogs are all business on the trip until Saturday evening. After the tournament they spend the night on the strip, soaking in the influence and fluorescence of the World's largest tourist (trap) experience.

While the wrestlers spend Saturday evening experiencing Vegas, on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon they traditionally give Las Vegas wrestlers a new experience.

It always makes me laugh when I hear Las Vegas team coaches yelling, "watch out for the Moffat County." The 'Moffat County' is a move the Bulldogs use called the Sanders. Nevada wrestling had never seen the move until Roman Gutierrez brought his boys here 10 years ago.

This year, the break from the everyday routine is especially timely for the Bulldogs. I was at lunch at the high school on Monday, and I was talking to three wrestlers about the season. They are upbeat but disappointed about the season so far. There is confidence that the team will continue to improve and wrestle well at the end of the season. At the same time, their 12th-place finish at the Warrior Classic and No. 8 ranking in Class 4A is unsatisfactory. One of the guys even said, "We really aren't very good."

I've heard similar sentiments from people in the community. Several times I've been asked, "What's wrong with the wrestlers?"

I can only think of two consequences that a team ranked eighth in the state should be considered a disappointment. The first is if the team finished in the top three the previous year and returned with the same athletes the next year. The second is if there are only eight teams in the entire classification.

The challenge for Moffat County's wrestling team is previous success. After three consecutive state championships beginning in 2001, nothing but the best is expected.

With the help of On the Mat's Tim Yount, I hope to show how unfair of a comparison that is for any team.

At the beginning of the season, Yount, who is the man when it comes to Colorado wrestling statistics and rankings, e-mailed numbers he had collected from the past six state tournaments. In those six tournaments, the Bulldogs have finished third, first, first, first, second and fifth.

In those years, Moffat County has scored more points at the state meet -- 792 -- than any team in any classification in the state. To put that in perspective, the Bulldogs scored 990 points at state from 1990 to 1999. That total was fourth in the state for that period. The Bulldogs are less than 200 points away with five more state tournaments to elapse that total.

Roman's boys have made 14 state finals in the past five years. They also have earned 28 state medals, which is third in all classes.

Those teams put up some of the most numbers ever seen in the history of Colorado wrestling.

The wrestlers now grew up watching them. Those guys who I talked to Monday not only wrestle against their opponent every tournament, they compete against the shadow of those historic teams.

Last year on this trip, I wrote a column about the "Great Expectations" of the wrestling team. Maybe this column is unoriginal, but I wanted to write again because it bothers me that the wrestlers think their eighth-place ranking is mediocre.

There is a lot of pride associated with Moffat County wrestling. My hope is that upcoming wrestlers respect that pride but don't get suffocated by the success of previous teams.

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