DOLORES – Laying the foundation of a new house can be an exciting time.
For the Dolores High School wrestling program, the first part of the 2023-24 season has been about pouring concrete.
After losing senior captains to graduation in spring, head coach Casen Eldridge and the Bears turn to a very young squad this winter to establish a new set of expectations and traditions to bring the program to its many lofty goals.
“We’re looking to establish a culture,” said Eldridge, “so no matter who’s here, everyone knows exactly what the expectations are – and that includes their demeanor as student-athletes, as well as representing our community as positive citizens.”
It’ll start with building through the younger levels, according to Eldridge, where the high school program builds an investment from the middle school and peewee wrestlers to keep the program strong.
As for the current editions of the Bears wrestling squads, the boys and girls teams combine to field over a dozen athletes this winter, many of whom are from the Class of 2026 or 2027.
Those youthful groups have already had the opportunity to cut their teeth in Grand County’s season-opening invitational, as well as in duals at Norwood, and Eldridge has seen the early-season development beginning to pay off.
A pair of sophomores have earned captaincy roles for the Bears this winter, with Nathan Hill and Jake Vreeken taking the reins of a young group that’s building toward the big matches in late January and early February.
“As individuals, we’re wanting to continue to do our part to make the others around us better,” added Eldridge of his team-first mentality, “and with developing strong bonds with their practice partners to help to make this team tight-knit.”
Freshman Darrin Hicks has emerged as one of the Bears bringing a level of energy that it will take to compete in a rugged San Juan Basin League this year.
“They’ve been super-coachable, bringing a high-intensity,” said Eldridge of his group this year, “and it takes being mentally strong to survive the hard practices and matches – and as a result, we’re seeing huge leaps.”
The Bears have action leading up to the holidays in Price, Utah, at the Carbon Duals on Dec. 8-9, followed by their annual trip to Walsenburg for the Pete and Ina Gomez Invitational on Dec. 15-16. Dolores rings in the new year with their lone home matches of the season, hosting a quad with Monticello, M-CHS, and Ignacio on Jan. 5. The San Juan Basin League tournament, hosted by Dove Creek, is slated for Thursday, Feb. 1.