LOUISVILLE — The returning members of the up-and-coming Monarch Coyotes wrestling team have an understandably sour taste in their mouth.
The state tournament last February at the Pepsi Center didn't quite go according to plan, but Ezra Paddock's group isn't going to dwell on it.
Instead, they are doing something about it.
They have logged an unprecedented number of hours on the mat, both in training and in valuable match experience both across the country and abroad. All with the hope that it pays off in February at the Pepsi Center.
"Last year we were super young and it has been a long time coming for us to be relevant against some of the better teams," said Paddock, whose team finished tied for 19th last season. "We were right on the cusp a lot of the year and we battled with everybody, we just couldn't get over the hump to reach our ultimate goal.
"But it changes our focus this year in trying to climb up there and to be one of those teams."
And the wrestling community has taken notice of what the Coyotes are doing. They are ranked No. 6 in Class 5A by OnTheMat to start the season, something they feel is fair and that they want to try and live up to when it matters most.
Monarch has four wrestlers returning to their deep lineup that went to state last season, including state runner-up Cole Polluconi.
The 132 pound junior won over 40 matches last season, yet ...
"I was so close last year and I'm coming back better this year with a renewed focus," said Polluconi, who was one of several members of the Coyotes squad that travelled to Budapest, Hungary over the summer for some intense training.
Polluconi lost 15-4 in the finals to Poudre's Jacob Greenwood in a match that serves to motivate him moving forward.
"Everyday I replay that match over and over in my head and it drives me to work hard," he said. "And get better and better."
Also returning state qualifiers for the Coyotes are sophomore Xander Rens at 120 pounds as well as juniors Parker McQuade (126) and Nate Pritchard (152).
Also in the depth-filled room, that Paddock said will be two to three deep at every weight class, are Keegan Feenstra (182), Zach Hacker (106), Porter McQuade (152), Evan Williams (220) and exciting freshman Tristan Perez (145).
"We can definitely do this," said Rens, who is eager to make amends for a disappointing performance at state last season. ""When we were in Budapest, we learned about the attitude. Those guys got up every morning and ran, worked out; two-a-days every day and just the mentality of getting into the life-style."
And the competition will continue to get better this season. Monarch, which starts the season at Arvada West and will be at Broomfield for a dual tournament on Saturday, has a three week stretch of tournaments in December and January that will have them ready for the final months of the season.
They will travel to the Walsh Ironman in Ohio, then to Las Vegas for a holiday tournament in Sin City before wrapping up their nationwide tour in Fresno, California at the Doc Buchanan after the new year.
"They've worked really hard in the off-season to give themselves a chance," said Paddock, who knows defending champion Pomona is the favorite on paper, but is in the mix with teams like Poudre, Ponderosa and Castle View. "(The depth) makes practice super competitive and it just doesn't allow you to rest."