LONGMONT — The eyes of Colorado Class 4A wrestling are on Kyle Couch from little Mead High School, a relative newcomer on the state wrestling scene.
Taking home the 182-pound state title in 2012-13, Couch became his school’s first wrestling state champion. He put the Mavericks on the map as a junior and proved himself to be undisputedly one of Colorado’s best grapplers.
Colorado’s many title hopefuls will view a match with Couch this season as a shot at the champ. Couch, however, feels he has no rightful claim to the 2013-14 throne and does not perceive his senior campaign as a gauntlet through which he must preserve his reign.
As Couch sees it, he must start over and win it all, all over again.
“I don’t really look at it like I’m defending it,” Couch said. “I’m going to wrestle all new people and I’m just going to have to work harder this year and go out there to try to win it again. I need to work on some things, like wrestling better on top, and make sure that I get better and stay sharp.”
In February, Couch won a 4-2 victory over Montezuma-Cortez’s Trenton Gustafson in the 182-pound championship bout at the Pepsi Center. Though he’s solidified himself as one of the state’s top wrestlers, wrestling might not even top Couch’s list of sports.
The Mavericks are coming off the best football season in school history, during which the team went 7-2 with Couch as the team leader on offense and defense. His recent success on the football field has Couch, who has been talking to coaches at Colorado Mesa University and Colorado State-Pueblo, thinking about playing at the next level.
Whatever sport he decides to play in college, Couch said the football and wrestling teams’ emergence has the student body at Mead High more excited about the upcoming sports season.
“It helps that we had a good football season,” Couch said. “That helps get the school more into sports and coming off a successful season, you hope that breads more success going into wrestling.”
Another partial byproduct of focusing on football, Couch will be moving up in weight to the 195-pound class this season. He’ll also face mostly new competition as a large portion of last season’s 182- and 195-pound wrestlers graduated.
Couch has attended his usual allotment of wrestling camps has been lifting to gain muscle in the offseason. Bolstering his confidence, Couch won the 195-pound division at Brush and Weld Central tournaments early last season, so he doesn’t see the move up in the weight ladder as that big a deal.
“It should benefit me because I’m a little quicker,” he said. “It’s hard to tell this early but I saw some kids at 195s last year so I should be ready.”
Admittedly, the Mavericks senior is a little nervous about having a target on his back and would prefer to be the underdog again. But as the Mavericks program improves, Couch will have plenty of back up returning this season.
Senior Austin Van Hooker, junior Sage Budd and senior Jorge Cortez all return with state tournament experience. Joining them this season will be state-qualifying junior Jesse Ortiz, who transferred to Mead High from Frederick High.
“It was mostly just for the academics,” Ortiz said. “I just thought it was time to move, meet knew people and stuff. I’m excited to start the season with them. It’ll be a good new experience.”
As a whole, the Mavericks expect to be a better team for the 2013-14 season. But Couch remains the big attraction.
Couch ended last season as the best in the state and will start the upcoming campaign as such. It may not feel like a title defense to Couch, but he’s the champ in everyone else’s eyes and he is going to have to take everyone’s best shot if he wants to win another state title.
“He’s a known quantity now, not that he hasn’t been his entire career,” Mavericks head coach Ty Tatham said. “It’s like a boxing thing and everyone wants to take a shot at the champ. He’s going to run into some tougher matches because everyone wants to measure themselves against the best.”
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