NIWOT — Tommy Stager has put in the work.

Now its time to see if his efforts come to fruition.

The Niwot junior is the Cougars' best hope to end a 23-year state championship drought, and if the preseason work is any indication that Stager is serious about his chase of the crown, then this should end well.

"I've already wrestled in four tournaments in preparation for this season," said Stager on Monday while on vacation with his family in the Cayman Islands. "I would like to be the best wrestler I can be and if that means state champion, that would be ideal, but if the best wrestler I can be is third place — which is not what I want — that is the best I can be."

Stager has put a lot of time in already on the mat this year. He wrestled in the Preseason Nationals in Iowa (late October), the Monster Match Nationals in Denver (first week of November), the Big Horn Nationals in Loveland and just last week in Phoenix at the Grand Canyon Nationals.

In Iowa, Stager was placed in a bracket of 128 competitors and won three matches before bowing out. He went on to place second at both Colorado events before being crowned a champion in Arizona.

"It definitely give me a head start and I'm going into the season with about 20 more matches than most wrestlers would otherwise," said Stager, who finished fourth at the state tournament last season at 120 pounds. "That's going to be very helpful."


Stager has employed the most simple of methods in his approach to his craft.

"Hard work and preparation are the keys to success," said Stager, who will attempt to become the first Niwot state champion since Garin Daum in 1993. "You are good there, you can do anything."

First year Niwot coach Bobby Matthews has been able to watch Stager grow up. Matthews has seen Stager several times over the last two seasons at the helm of Frederick, and has learned even more about his prized protege over the last few weeks.

"The No. 1 thing that has stuck out for me is his work ethic, you know, he works his butt off," Matthews said. "Outside of the room, he is training all the time and he really never misses an opportunity to train.

"That is what separates him from a lot of kids is his work ethic and having coached so many elite kids at Frederick, they never worked as hard as he does."

Jon Yunt: or