MONTROSE – Under the lights at Denver's Pepsi Center last year, the Montrose High School wrestling team made a statement by placing third in the state tournament. This year, with strong senior leadership and hard work ethic, the team aims to up their placement.
After its first week of practice, Coach Kevin Passehl said nearly 25 boys have been attending practice, which is slightly down from the 34 boys who came out the previous year. While those numbers may have dropped a bit, Passehl said those who are participating generally have a strong wrestling background.
“We've got a good group of kids out now,” Passehl said. “They know what to expect and they have been there and through it all by now. Our goal is to do better than we did last year and I honestly think the kids we have can do that.”
As far as the state tournament goes, Passehl, who is now in his second year as Montrose’ head coach, said until last year, the Indians had trouble competing in the tournament.
“We would go to state and just flop and we didn’t know what the answer for that was,” he said. “Last year was different. We had a different attitude. We never stopped working hard. As the season went on we worked harder and harder and the kids bought into that and when they got to the state tournament, they wrestled at their best.”
The team will have six seniors leading the team this year: Drew Schumann, Chris Sandoval, Lyle Wright, and including Bryce Gaber, who placed second at the state tournament last year in the 171-pound class.
“With the seniors we have right now on the team, you couldn’t ask for better leadership,” Passehl said.
The Indians' season gets underway on Dec. 2, at home against Gunnison High School, followed by an away game against Delta on Dec. 3. They'll face tough competition, including last year's second-place state championship team, Roosevelt High School, during a tournament on Dec. 11. Last year's state championship team, Broomfield High School, will also attend the tournament at Roosevelt, in Weld County.
“It is going to be a tough tournament,” Passehl said. “Both Broomfield and Roosevelt placed ahead of us in state. They are going to have some tough teams there and we are really looking forward to that tournament.”
Another tournament, the Warrior Classic in Grand Junction, follows on Dec. 17, a competition Passehl says is “always big.”
The post-winter break season begins Jan. 8, when Montrose hosts the Indian Invitational.
Right now, Passehl believes the strength of the team will come in the middle-weight classes, particularly in the 125, 140 and “really solid” 171 weight classes.
“We will see how it all pans out,” he said, adding that he has one kid coming out as a heavy weight this year. “This kid can do a lot of good things. I think it has been five or six years since we have had a heavy weight at Montrose. That would be a real nice addition to the team this year.”
This year's regional tournament will be held at Palisade High School, Feb. 11-12, followed States in Denver, Feb. 17-18. There the Indians will look to best last year’s third place finish.
“I am excited about their attitude right now,” Passehl said of his wrestlers. “In comparison to this time last year, its 100 percent better. They know what they have to do. "We preach hard work, discipline and accountability. Everybody believes that good things are going to be happening for us at the end of the year,” he said.