By JORDAN WICKSTROM
A first-ever state champion, and the highest finish at a state tournament ever was just part of the historical season coach Brent Mahan and his Hugoton Eagles wrestling team experienced in 2010-11.
Because of the work Mahan did in just his eighth season as head coach, he has been recognized as the 2010-11 Telegram All-Area Wrestling Coach of the Year.
"Up until the last two or three years, my time (at Hugoton) has been frustrating," Mahan said. "We were in the Hi-Plains League for a long time, and I thought there were a lot of years we had a good chance at winning that and wouldn't even get in the top three. Now we're in this new league (Great West Activities Conference), which is a really tough league, and it was difficult to even think about a top-10 finish at state." Mahan helped coach Colten Lissolo to a state championship which in turn gave the school its highest finish at a state tournament ever — eighth place.
"Going into the season I felt he had a really chance at winning it," Mahan said of his junior 215-pounder. "That idea kept growing as the season progressed and as the bracket progressed over the course of the weekend. It's exciting to get that first state champion in the school's history and hopefully it makes the next one easier and begins some tradition."
Because of all the success, the team and Mahan have become more notable in the Hugoton community.
Mahan hopes this new-found notoriety will help garner some more interest in the program and get more youngsters to try out for the wrestling team.
"This year we had probably six to eight really good kids and they made that eight or ninth kid better," Mahan said. "That's where your depth comes from. That's where you have programs like Garden City that have tons of kids go out and they all feed off each other. They've got kids who you've never heard about or thought about that come in and compete. We want to have that in our future."
Despite the best finish ever, Mahan believes the team could potentially do better.
He challenged the team to finish in the top 10 at state, and it accomplished that goal, but now believes it can do more.
With a rejuvenated squad, and the return of champion Lissolo, the idea of a top-five finish may not be out of reach.
"I think we'll be a better state team next year," Mahan said. "I don't think we'll have the depth. We're losing three seniors. We had nine state qualifiers this year but I don't think we'll have that again. I do think we'll have more place at state, though."
Mahan knows there will be a lot of work to do. He believes a few more wrestlers could have done better at the state tournament which will help motivate his returners for next season.
"Last year we had a good regional tournament but a bad state tournament," Mahan said. "This year we had a good regional tournament and pretty good state tournament. Not a perfect state tournament, there were a couple kids who could've done better. But every year it seems like we do good at the next level. We're going to keep building on that."
However, with all the milestones the team reached this season comes the loss of the underdog tag. Mahan admitted he has previously used the underdog status as a motivational tool, but now he is not so sure he will be able to continue that.
"I don't know what we're going to do with a target on our backs," Mahan said. "I hope we're in the preseason top 10. We might not be. I don't know. Honestly, it wouldn't surprise me if we weren't. I think we should be, but I hope we're not. We can keep playing that underdog role again.
"But if teams are going for us, then we'll just put that on our backs and see what happens from there."