Consider the first two months of wrestling a learning experience for Jake Bricker.
During that time the Moffat County High School junior, who moved to Craig this year, struggled to a 1-7 record.
On Saturday, he helped the Moffat County wrestling team go 2-1 at the Dog Fight Duals with two wins and a forfeit. The three wins tripled his total for the season.
"Just this week (in practice) I learned a lot," he said. "It's not as much of a thinking process right now, and I'm doing things a lot more naturally."
MCHS coach Roman Gutierrez credited Bricker's improvements to simplifying his technique.
"He was trying to get things done with his legs, and that takes a lot of experience," Gutierrez said. "Today he wrestled with more basic stuff, and it worked for him."
Bricker came from a wrestling program in Texas where he said they were lucky to have half of the parents come to watch a match.
"Here, half the town comes sometimes, so it's a lot more pressure," he said. "The program has a lot of tradition, and I hope that I'm learning what it takes."
Bricker was one of five undefeated wrestlers on the day for the Bulldogs at their home tournament of the season. Seniors Nick Navratil, Brice Boling and Jake Breslin as well as junior Josh Satterwhite went 3-0 on the day. Despite the undefeated day, Breslin said the team's day-ending loss to Florence left a bad taste in his mouth.
"We had some kids give up during their matches," he said. "If we were healthy, we would have beat them, but it was still in our grasps."
Florence led by big margins several times in the dual, 16-0, 22-6 and 39-24, but each time the Bulldogs fought back with pins. Moffat County went up 24-22 after Trenton Duarte, Navratil and Satterwhite rolled consecutive pins.
Heavyweight Dave Hickson was inches away from pinning Florence's Tanner Wilcox in the first period to put the Bulldogs up 30-22, but Wilcox survived Hickson's headlock and came back to earn a pin in the second period.
After two more Florence wins put the Huskies up 39-24, Boling pinned Derek Tucker to keep the Bulldogs' chances alive for a win with two matches left.
"What we needed was a win and a pin," Breslin said. "The challenge was that Florence had two tough kids left."
Breslin, who is ranked No. 3 at 125 pounds in Class 4A, was up against Andrew Addington who also is ranked No. 3 but in Class 3A.
Breslin controlled most of the match, but slipped out of two moves to allow Addington to stay close. The Moffat wrestler ended up winning, 9-7.
That left the Huskies with a 39-33 lead with one match remaining. That meant Moffat County needed a pin to put the dual at a tie.
Moffat's Chris McAlexander couldn't corral Matthew Addington (ranked sixth in 3A) and lost 10-2. Florence won the dual and the tournament, 43-33. Moffat finished 6-6 against Florence with five pins, despite the Bulldogs without the services of varsity wrestlers Matt Kincheloe, Levi Weber and Lyle Schaffner, who were out with various ailments.
"I thought we wrestled well in most spots," Gutierrez said. "We need to get our kids healthy to be able to compete with Florence. I'm proud of that program because they are coming along."
Teams benefit from trip
Denver East and Florence have made the annual trip up to the Dog Fight Duals to learn from the Bulldogs, as well. For the last four years each program has grown. The East Angels came to the duals with five ranked wrestlers in Class 5A. Florence is the sixth-ranked team in Class 3A and they have seven ranked wrestlers.
"Those teams keep getting better," Gutierrez said. "I hope coming up here has been a part of that for them."
First two wins
Moffat County overcame a lack of three varsity regulars against Meeker and Denver East.
Moffat County went 8-3 in matches wrestled against Meeker. Seven of those wins were by pin for a 59-23 win.
Against East the Bulldogs were 6-5 with five pins in a 54-45 win.
For the tournament Moffat County was 20-14 with 17 pins.
Next up for the Bulldogs is the annual trip to Las Vegas.
"I think we can get some confidence in Vegas," Breslin said. "We're working hard. We just need to be more aggressive at times."