By BRETT MARSHALL
Brent Mahan can remember the early years of his Hugoton High School wrestling program when he took over the coaching reins in 2003.
"We struggled with numbers and wrestling wasn't cool," Mahan said Monday.
How things have changed for the Eagles mat team.
On Saturday at Maize South, Mahan watched his grapplers win three individual titles, qualify nine individuals to the Class 4A state tournament, and finish second to powerhouse Andale.
"It kind of really started to change with this senior class when they were freshmen," Mahan said of how the program has grown. "We've had some salty kids with each class and I knew if it kept progressing, it was just a matter of time."
Like many programs around the area and state, Hugoton had its share of young wrestlers but attracted very students to come out for the high school program.
"It wasn't the thing to do," Mahan said of those early struggles. "We just had to find a way to keep them out. Now, we've got quite a few who really do want to be part of this."
According to Mahan, it was senior Cody Hill, a state runner-up as a freshman, who was the first wrestler to signal a change in the program's direction.
"I think when Cody placed as a freshman, others thought that maybe it was kind of the thing to do," Mahan said.
Of the nine Eagles who will compete Friday and Saturday at Salina, three of them did not begin wrestling until they were in the seventh grade.
Included in that group is senior Tyler McBride, who claimed the 130-pound title and posted a 29-9 record this season.
"He's a pretty good athlete and I'm just excited for the kids," Mahan said. "I daydreamed to have nine make it to the state and now that's a reality."
Another senior, Bill Holcomb, claimed the 285-pound crown at Maize South. Holcomb makes the trip to Wichita after entering the season with some doubts.
"I knew it was a possibility but I wondered if he'd wrestle," Mahan said of Holcomb, whose 15-10 record might be misleading to many.
"We've had a much tougher schedule this year than in the past and our records aren't the best in the tournament, but that toughness has helped us a lot."
The other gold medalist at the regional was junior Colten Lissolo, a junior at 215-pounds. He sports one of the best records of all the state qualifiers with a 32-7 record.
Four of those losses have come against fellow junior, Scott City's Luke Hayes, a Class 3-2-1A runner-up at Goodland on Saturday.
Mahan, though, is not surprised at how his team has performed this year.
"Last year, we had six go to state and after that I really thought we'd have a chance to get eight, maybe nine to state," Mahan said.
Other qualifiers include third-place finishers Patrick Weaver (sophomore, 140 pounds, 32-6) and Rusty Guerrero (junior, 152, 16-6).
Fourth-place finishers Logan Livengood (junior, 119, 19-14); Lawson Fiss (sophomore, 135, 32-9); Cody Hill (senior, 145, 28-10) and Ty Haller (junior, 189, 28-11).
Area notes: Ulysses' Tigers, third-place team finishers at Maize, will send five wrestlers to Salina from the 4A regional.
That group includes regional champions Jason Perez (junior, 103, 31-2) and Robbie Hines (senior, 125, 32-2).
Runner-up Razzy Morales (junior, 140, 24-9) and fourth-place finishers Armando Sandoval (sophomore, 171, 32-12) and Kiano Sosa (sophomore, 285, 8-13).
At Goodland, Scott City placed third in the team race and advanced six wrestlers to Hays for the 3-2-1A state meet.
That group includes 112-pound champion Clay Mulligan (28-2) and the three who placed second including Alex Kough at 119 pounds (21-4), Dalton Paul at 145 (17-6) and Luke Hayes at 215 (35-4).
Michael McEachern finished third at 285 (26-13) and Warren Kropp was fourth at 140 pounds (13-9).
Cimarron's Bluejays will have two wrestlers entered, including 285-pound regional champ Tyler White, who sports a glittering 28-1 record. Brad Barrett (30-12), placed fourth.
Lakin's two qualifiers both finished second at the regional — Dalton Davis at 135 pounds (27-2) and Trevor Kennedy at 125 (27-7).
Davis was state runner-up a year ago. South Gray's Coulter Croft was third at 152 pounds (26-4) and Wichita County will send Joe Salinas (16-11) at 130 pounds after placing fourth.