LOUISVILLE — The Monarch Coyotes are so close they can almost taste it.
Sure, you might think you have heard this story before, but believe it this time.
After an 11th place finish at state last year with a roster that returns almost fully intact, coach Ezra Paddock's team is primed to challenge squads like Grand Junction and Pomona in February at the Pepsi Center.
"I think that schedule that we have taken on and adopted has progressed," said Paddock, who when he began at Monarch 10 years ago had trouble scheduling into good tournaments and getting teams to schedule them because they were just so bad. "You have to have some success, but at the same time you have to challenge the kids or else you're not going to grow.
"We've tried to make it tougher each year and the big thing now, and this is exciting, is that everybody wants us in their tournament and wants to dual us because they know we are going to put a solid group of kids out there to compete."
The Coyotes return eight state qualifiers from last years team and the core of that is the trio of Cole Polluconi, Parker McQuade and Xander Rens — all of whom made the semifinals and ultimately finished third.
That tougher schedule has benefitted the Coyotes too. And this year will be no different, especially in December and January, where they will be tested at the Eagle Duals (Colby, Kan.), the Reno Tournament of Champions, the Doc Buchanan (Fresno) and a number of duals against top flight competition in Arvada West, Legacy, Broomfield and Adams City.
"It's benefitted our kids too," said Paddock, who wrestled at Centaurus and has tried to mirror the success the Warriors had during their glory years with his program. "We learned to challenge ourselves during the regular season, so that when you get to the postseason and the state tournament that that is not the hardest thing you've competed in all year."
In addition to the aforementioned trio, the Coyotes roster will include qualifiers Zach Hacker, Aidan Quinn, Alex Scott, Nate Pritchard and Keegan Feenstra; seasoned seniors Trent Brenner and Justin Powers as well newcomers Vince Cornella and Ryan Kuykendall.
For Polluconi, who is coming off a successful return to the gridiron that saw him carry the load in Coyotes run heavy attack (264 carries, 1,210 yards), the stunning loss in the semifinals to AWest's Cody Fatzinger is something that he hasn't dwelled on.
"I tried to put it behind me just because of how upset I was after the match," said Polluconi, who has goals of placing in both Reno and Fresno. "But it still drives me every day."
The Monarch room is alive with the talk of goals and the heights it could reach and instead of shying away from it, "We talk about it everyday," Polluconi said.
"We know we have to work hard to reach our full potential and achieve the goals we have both individually and as a team."
Said Paddock, whose team isn't dwelling on the past: "It's those little changes that get you to the top of the mountain. And we use our past to motivate our future."