Corey McNellis was a two-time Colorado wrestling champion at Ponderosa. His older brother Chris was the Mustangs’ first-ever state champ.
The McNellis brothers are part of Ponderosa’s wrestling program that has been one of the state’s best over the past two decades.
Ponderosa wrestlers have won 10 state championships, one less than Holly, Wray and Montrose for the most in Colorado hitory. The Mustangs hold the state record by winning eight consecutive state championships.
The Mustangs, who were the Class 5A runners-up last season, will be seeking their 20th consecutive Continental League title in the 2013-14 campaign and will be attempting to stretch a streak of 160 straight league dual meet victories.
“We lost dual meets but they have been outside of the league,” explained former wrestling coach Tim Ottmann, who is now the Mustangs’ athletic director. “We had some really good teams in the early ‘90s and won some state championships.
“Years and years ago we built a feeder system. We have a real good junior wrestling program and it feeds the high school program. You talk about teams that have to rebuild and we just reloaded with incoming talent. No team wants to be the one that loses a dual meet. It’s important to them. But we’ve also been fortunate to have enough kids because you have to fill 14 weight classes.”
The names of Ottmann, who coached seven years at Burges High School in El Paso, Texas, and Ponderosa are sprinkled throughout the Colorado High School Activities Association’s wrestling records.
Ottmann, the 2008 National High School Wrestling Coach of the Year, ranks second in best dual meet record at one school (125-12) and first in best dual meet career record (170-22).
After the 2008 season, Ottmann handed over the reins of the Ponderosa program to Corey McNellis.
“It’s been really fun to build it over the years and hand it over to Corey,” said Ottmann. “It has been a dream come true. I’m really proud of it and want to see it continue.
“My son Jake wrestled for me and he graduated in 2008. The last match I ever coached was my son in the finals, which was really cool. But Jake and I had decided. He graduated and I turned it over. I coached for 25 years and that was enough.”
In McNellis’ first season as head coach, Ponderosa almost lost a league dual meet. The Mustangs and Chaparral tied 33-33 but Ponderosa won on criteria by winning eight of the 14 matches.
McNellis and his wrestlers feel the Continental winning streak provides a motivation.
“It motivates them the way that we present it,” said McNellis. “Every team is different. It gives them confidence that the coaches know what they are doing and the program is a well-run machine that they need to buy into and if they do, they are going to have success.
“We really set our goals higher to do well at the national and state level and then the league stuff kind of falls in place.”
Ponderosa has crowned 35 individual state champions and 10 wrestlers earned All-America honors.
“It’s the program and not just the team,” added McNellis. “If we can get them bought in, then that’s when you reload instead of rebuild.
“Success breeds success. When they build confidence it helps them. We also build our schedule so we see top competition during the year. You have to build your schedule so it’s tough so you see the best.”
McNellis is one of several combinations of brothers who have wrestled for Ponderosa and won state titles.
Dylan Gabel, the defending 170-pound state champion, and Kade Snider are two Mustangs with brothers who captured state crowns and are on the current Ponderosa team.
“It’s really cool,” said Ottmann. “We’ve had multiple brothers come through, in some cases like the Snider family they have six or seven in the family and of course Kade is still with us. It’s been a real good long tradition of family. They have come through.”