There is a different energy around the Sandpoint wrestling team.
Maybe its the influx of young talent to the team. Maybe its the hunger to avenge last year’s defeat in the Battle for the Paddle.
Whatever it is, you can tell the Bulldogs are ready for the season to start and with a current squad of 45 wrestlers, they are prepared to do battle with anyone that decides to take them on. And that’s been clear in the first couple weeks of practice where head coach Jake Stark is challenging his teams limits and seeing if they’ll break.
And so far they haven’t backed down.
“We’re whittling it down seeing who is tough enough to actually stay on the team which is good because we don’t want the kids that can’t,” senior Jake Ryan said.
Ryan is one of eight seniors on the team that the Bulldogs will lean on for experience and to help bring along the 13 freshman on the squad.
But thanks to Sandpoint’s Top Dog Wrestling, a feeder program, these freshmen are more prepared than ever to contribute to the team right away.
They also have something to prove which is a mentality that senior Isaiah Caralis loves to see.
“They just go out there and give it their all because they know it’s not handed to them and everyone up here is fighting,” he said. “No one is guaranteed a spot yet.”
The Bulldogs are a scrappy group and Stark is really excited to get on the mat against another team and see what his kids are capable of.
Senior Brady Nelson has high expectations for this season and is in pursuit of a state title at 145 pounds.
He also wants to beat Lakeland’s Ryan Quimby who topped him at districts last year and is one of the Hawks toughest wrestlers.
“It would mean a lot,” Nelson said about claiming a state title. “I’ve been thinking about that since I was in ninth grade and also beating that same kid. We’ve been in the same weight class since we were in seventh grade.”
Nelson also ran on the cross country team in the fall which helps him with his conditioning when wrestling season rolls around. It also gives him an advantage when the third period rolls around and his opponent starts to slow down.
“The third round comes around and [Nelson] just cranks it up while everyone else is dying,” Stark said. “He usually wins a lot of matches just because of that.
He can sense that, he smells the blood in the water and he just goes.”
Stark said Nelson is the heart and soul of the Bulldogs squad.
“He kind of epitomizes Sandpoint wrestling,” Stark said. “He goes the extra mile, he works hard. He just does whatever it takes, he is in killer shape. He just told me he biked 35 miles this [last] weekend.”
Stark said senior Jake Suhr is another “stud” on the Bulldogs that he is expecting big things from this season.
Suhr is currently at 225 pounds but he wants to drop down and wrestle at 195 this season. Suhr played on the football team in the fall, but getting ready for the rigors of the wrestling season is a whole different animal, he said.
“I got in pretty good shape for football, I’m way out of shape for wrestling,” he said. “It’s a totally different type of conditioning. It’s really hard. You lose like four or five pounds in practice.”
In his final season, Suhr plans on leaving it all on the mat and having no regrets while leading by example. And the rest of the seniors plan on doing the same.
“I want people to know I was always putting my 100 percent out there and I was encouraging people and never putting anybody down,” Caralis said about how he wants to be remembered.
Last season Sandpoint took nine wrestlers to state and this year Stark said the team is capable of sending at least 10.
Stark has high hopes for the Bulldogs and its easy to see why.
“We’re a pretty well-rounded team this year so I’m confident in our ability,” he said. “I’m kind of setting my goals high because I know this is a group of kids that I know that I can push and they can handle it. “They’re not going to fold, they’re going to rise to the occasion.”
Sandpoint will hold the red/white scrimmage 5 p.m. Monday and opens the season 6 p.m. Thursday by hosting Bonners Ferry.