COLORADO SPRINGS - Nobody associated with the Discovery Canyon Campus wrestling program is coming out and saying it, but a team state title is very much on their minds this season.
“I want to go out on top, and I think we have the team to compete this year,” said senior AJ Rees, a two-time state champion who recently committed to Iowa State. “We just have to keep working hard and see what happens.’
Rees won the state title last season at 113 pounds (he won at 106 in 2011). He was second at state as a freshman. He will wrestle either 120 or 126 this season.
“Obviously the ultimate goal is to win state,” Rees said. “It’s in the back of my mind, but I’m just working on getting better every day”
Fellow Thunder senior and mat partner Stevie Turner won the his first state championship at 120 pounds.
He didn’t place as a sophomore after finishing sixth as a freshman.
“Now I have to look and know what that felt like and know what losing felt my sophomore year and use that as motivation to do the best I can,” said Turner, who will likely wrestle 138 this season.
The Thunder finished third as a team in Class 4A behind Pueblo South and Windsor, respectively.
“There’s some pretty good teams when you get up to that level,” said Discovery Canyon coach Ron Sukle, who started the Thunder program in 2008 when the school opened. “We’ll see where the chips fall this year. If we work hard and do what we have to do, good things will happen.”
In addition to Rees and Turner, the Thunder return five other state qualifiers: juniors Adrian Mack (runner up at 170) and David Traynor (4th at 195), sophomores Tyler Oberg (145) and Jackson Spalding (heavyweight) and senior Tanner Reynolds (113).
“We have to make sure we’re strong and injury free during the season,” Sukle said. “We have a lot of guys (60) in our system that have been working hard. It’s time for them to step up.”
The Bears began their season with 46-37 victory over a gritty Woodland Park squad on Nov 28.
First-year coach Paul Gagich likes what he’s seen from his team so far.
“We had 16 to 17 kids out for our preseason program the second week of school, and 25 to 26 by the time we ran our boot camp,” said Gagich, who was an assistant with the program for three years. “These kids are working hard and it shows.”
The Bears return three state qualifiers in seniors Tyler Thalhammer (138) and Erik Guy (145), and sophomore Rylen Thalhammer (113). Tyler and Ryan were both regional champs last season, while Rylen was sixth at state 106.
Other top wrestlers include seniors Adam Bryan (160s), Michael Brierton (132) and Pheonix Versay (195) and sophomore Ryan Best (152).
“I think we’re on the verge of establishing tradition,” Gagich said.
Other wrestlers who could make some noise this season include senior Jacob Bell (126) and sophomore Max Althouse (182).
The Bears host the “Ridge Rage” on Saturday.
Nick Baker is back for his sixth season as the Rangers’ wrestling coach.
“A lot of our starting guys this year have been wrestling varsity their whole career,” Baker said. “Overall, this is the probably the best team that’s been at Lewis-Palmer the last seven years.”
The Rangers have two returning state qualifiers in senior Nate Rykerd (138) and junior Darrayan Vanderpool. (126).
Returning regional qualifiers include senior Ricky Anderson (152), and juniors Joseph Glenn (170) and Luke Fowler (heavyweight).
Other top wrestlers should include senior Brad Kadlabowski (120), junior Alec Oberndorfer (106) and sophomore Trevor Wilch (113).
“Our lower weights have been itching to crack the lineup for so long,” Baker said.
“The first half of the season we focus on technique and drilling,” Baker said. “We start focusing on conditioning after Christmas break. We really don’t know what our team will be until January.”
The Titans are in a bit of a rebuilding mode after returning just two of four state qualifiers from last season - junior Andrew Register (145, fifth at state) and senior Jordan Birch (113-120).
Other top wrestlers this season include sophomores Hudson Baker (120-126), Nathaniel Johnston (120-126) and Nick Krause (170), and junior Zach Johns (152).