By Weston Allenback, GoThunderWolves.com Insider
PUEBLO, Colo. (GoThunderWolves.com - Nov. 1, 2012) - As the fifth season is set to get underway for the resurrected ThunderWolves wrestling program, head coach Dax Charles has shown the Pack the light. Faced with the daunting task of rebuilding the Pack wrestling program after an eight-year layoff, Charles has pushed the program closer to its goals of returning to its glory days experience before the program's ouster in 2001 due to a budget shortfall.
For the second time under Charles since the program was added once again, the ThunderWolves were ranked in the top 20 nationally last season, thanks in large part to a couple key wrestlers, both of whom will return for the Pack this season.
Jesse Hillhouse, (Sr., Casper, Wyo.), who was simply unbeatable in RMAC duals last season, boasting an 8-0 record at the 133-pound weight class, went 31-6 last year and qualified for the NCAA Division II Tournament. This year, he will drop down in weight to 125 where he has already gotten some respect with a preseason ranking of 7th in the nation. Hillhouse will look to continue his win streak inside the RMAC and hopefully ride it to a national title. In 2012, wrestling on his home floor, he finished a win away from becoming an All-American.
"He won us a lot of matches last year," Charles said. "When he went to the national tournament last year, he caught some bad breaks."
The second of two key returners this season for the ThunderWolves is Trevor Grant (Jr., Winnemucca, Nev.). The Academic All-American and 2012 national qualifier will also move down in weight for the Pack this coming season. After collecting a 23-15 overall record at 174 pounds, his moves to 165 pounds were he has yet to compete at the college ranks.
Grant, also ranked 7th nationally, brings with him not just wrestling passion, but also leadership, which will be heavily relied upon by Charles.
"Well I think both Jesse and Trevor bring leadership by example," Charles said. "Trevor is the kind of kid that does things the right way. He is someone that we can count on throughout the year."
But, not every weight class has a clear favorite going into the regular season. As the Red/Blue scrimmage gets underway Thursday, Charles says it will come into focus only one way - you have to beat your opponent two-out-of-three.
The 149-pound class promises to have a heated competition as four Pack members battle for their starting spot. Last season's starter, Nick Stahler (Sr., Palmer, Alaska), had a 4-3 RMAC record a in 2012, but faces three hungry lowerclassmen who are all out for his spot.
The RMAC once again proves to be one of, if not the best, wrestling conferences in the Division II ranks. With as many as six teams ranked in the top 20 at one point last season, the ThunderWolves and the rest of the conference caught a break when defending national champions Nebraska-Kearney moved out of the conference.
Though they will not completely avoid them as they are still in CSU-Pueblo's region, Charles knows they are once again a team to look out for in 2013. They travel to the Nebraska-Kearney Holiday Inn Open Nov. 17, where they will get their first sniff at the nation's best wrestling program.
However stiff the competition will be in the RMAC this season, Charles makes no excuses and expects this year's squad, which he says is the best team he believes he has had thus far, to be near the top.
"If the kids we have get on the bus and wrestle the way they are capable, we will be all right." Charles said. "We want to compete for an RMAC title."
After the Red/Blue Intersquad scrimmage, which helps decide the starting roster, the Pack will compete in the Cowboy Open in Wyoming on Nov. 3 and the Northwest College Open, also in Wyoming, on Nov. 10. RMAC duals begin Jan. 5 when the ThunderWolves travel to Ft. Hays State.