A year ago, the Monarch wrestling team was young and hungry, brimming with pride at having qualified a school-record six wrestlers for the state tournament.
But out of those six, five Coyotes wrestlers were making their state tournament debuts and there was no way to predict how they would respond to the bright lights at the Pepsi Center in Denver. Frankly, most of the Coyotes were happy just to have earned a spot in their respective 16-man state brackets.
This year, the Coyotes qualified seven wrestlers for the state tournament, which will take place this Thursday through Saturday. Sitting back and reviewing his team's sheer number of qualifiers, then considering this year's increased state tournament experience, Monarch head coach Ezra Paddock can't help but see his team as a threat to make some noise in Class 5A.
"The immediate difference has been their approach to regionals," Paddock said. "Last year, they just wanted to make it to state. This year, they saw regionals just as a stepping stone and have much higher goals for this weekend. They've been there before. And we have a couple young guys who haven't been there but at least they can follow those other guys' lead."
At the 5A Region 2 tournament on Saturday, the Coyotes left Doherty High School with three regional champions, two runners-up and two others who won wrestle-backs to qualify for state.
The Coyotes finished 30th out of 56 scoring 5A teams at state in 2015. Given their returning experience and low attrition from graduation, Paddock said the Coyotes are aiming high this season and shooting for the top 10-15.
"We had a good regional," Paddock said. "The kids grinded through it. A couple of them had real tough regionals but the goal was just to find a way to the next weekend. The ones who needed to do that did. You always hope for a couple qualifiers more but we're really pleased with having seven guys going down to state and most of our guys set themselves up in good spots in the state brackets."
A total of 45 wrestlers from the BoCoPreps.com coverage area qualified for this year's state tournament. In 5A, Legacy also qualified seven wrestlers, Broomfield is sending six, Fairview pushed through two and Centaurus will be represented by its lone qualifier, senior heavyweight Forrest Lalaguna.
In 4A, Silver Creek will bring a six-man state team to Denver. Longmont qualified three and Niwot and Frederick each had two wrestlers make it. Junior 120-pounder Uriel Contreras will represent Skyline.
Erie and Mead each qualified three wrestlers for the 3A tournament, while Holy Family's lone qualifier is junior 170-pounder Kolsen Welham.
Sophomore 170-pounder Keegan Bean was the only Lyons wrestler to reach the 2A state tournament.