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Durango High School wrestling off to strong start under new coach

Demons aim for podium spots under new head coach

With an influx of freshmen into the program, the Durango High School wrestling team is laying down the foundation for years to come under new head coach Robert Finneseth.

The Demons have 27 wrestlers on the team, which is up from 12 last season, and 15 are freshmen. Finneseth’s drill-heavy, hands-on approach has helped this year’s team understand the values of the program.

“I think the thing I keep saying the most is a push for the podium,” Finneseth said. “These kids are putting in a lot of work, effort, and we want to refine their skills with how they manage things, and the ultimate goal for a lot of them is to find themselves on a podium. Not necessarily on a state tournament podium, but the regional podium or whatever tournament podium.”

DHS went 2-3 at the Maverick Duals at Colorado Mesa University last Saturday, which came on the heels of a near-upset over Class 5A’s No. 2 team in Grand Junction the previous night.

Durango High School wrestlers Tyler Woodworth, top, and Caleb Brown work on their skills on Wednesday during practice.

Durango returned one state qualifier in sophomore Tyler Woodworth, who competed at the 145-pound weight class last year but said he is moving up two weight classes to 160 pounds. While he knows it will be a tough and he will face plenty of upperclassmen, he feels he is ready for a bigger challenge.

“I knew I was coming up two weight classes and all of the kids are bigger and stronger,” said Woodworth, who entered the season ranked No. 5 at 152 in the initial On The Mat rankings. “There’s not as many underclassmen, and I knew I was going to struggle a little bit, but I’m just doing my best and am excited to get where I want to be. ... My personal goal is for me to place at state. That’s what my goal was last year, and I didn’t get there. It was really because of my mindset. I didn’t really turn it on until regionals, and so I really have to find that 110% earlier in the year to advance in the state tournament.”

While Woodworth is certainly a wrestler to watch, he’s not the only one.

Durango High School wrestlers Ben Belt, left, and Austin Albrecht challenge each other on Wednesday during practice.

Durango returned senior captain Austin Albrecht, who narrowly missed out on a state tournament appearance last year at 182 pounds. Ranked at No. 9 in the 4A 182-pound weight class per On The Mat, he will be instrumental in helping guide the program in a transitional period.

“I think as a team, I’ve already seen from last weekend that we’re definitely improving,” Albrecht said. “We went from winning very few duals last year to winning a few this past weekend. It’s a lot more different under coach Finneseth. He’s more set in his ways in which he wants it done, whereas Leo (Garand) was open to all styles of wrestling, but it definitely has its perks. Everyone this year is being super aggressive, knows exactly what they want to do, and it’s definitely helping everyone. It’s a completely different style of wrestling, too.”

The style of wrestling is only one aspect of Finneseth’s vision for the program. He also said his top priority is to keep the wrestlers strong through a healthy and consistent lifestyle.

“Some of the things I told them on the first day of practice is I don’t need you cutting weight,” Finneseth said. “I said, ‘I want you healthy, stronger at the end of the season and better at wrestling.’ With those three things, we’re going to give it the best shot we can. Like I said, we don’t want kids focusing on weight cutting because it consumes you. When you haven’t eaten, food consumes you, and when you have to make weight, that’s your whole thought process. We want their thought process to be eat healthy, lift hard and wrestle well.”

The Demons already lost Alex Finneseth to injury. He entered the season ranked No. 6 at 170 pounds but hurt his shoulder on the first day of practice and will likely miss the remainder of the season. Still, the Demons have plenty of other strong returners in Ben Belt, Jacob Rowe, Jacob Fenberg and two seniors who are returning to the sport in Gabe Vasquez and Caleb Brown.

Finneseth believes that, in a few seasons, Durango will be the top team in the Four Corners. The Demons will put that to the test this weekend when they travel Saturday to Dove Creek for the Dawg Fight.

“I want to be the best program in this corner of the state,” Finneseth said. “Pagosa has a great program, and once we conquer our small little area here, that is our next step. Pagosa is right down the road. Our kids wrestle those kids through middle school, and that is in the lineup. It’s in the steps of what we need to do to get this program up there with the best.”

bploen@durangoherald.com

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