CALDWELL won its second consecutive 4A state team championship by more than 100 points last season, and the Cougars have enough talent back to make a third straight title a realistic goal.
The league’s coaches agree, choosing the Cougars as the unanimous pick to win the conference for the third year in a row.
Eighteen of the 25 wrestlers Caldwell qualified for state last season return, including 10-of-15 who placed among the top six.
Tenth-year coach Jeff Kloetzer didn’t think the Cougars had a particularly strong day on championship Saturday, crowning one individual winner.
“Our goal is to be state champions, but we have to keep focused and keep our eye on the goal of repeating again,’’ Kloetzer said.
It will be difficult to unseat the Cougars, but MOUNTAIN HOME is equipped to make a run.
The Tigers took second at last year’s district tournament and were the next best District Three finisher at state in seventh, including two state champions. Eleven of 16 state qualifiers return.
“I’m preaching this year that it’s a marathon and not a sprint,” Mountain Home coach Scott Mederios said. “We’ve got to constantly compete and get better as the year goes on. You don’t want to start real strong and then fade.”
With the latest classification realignment taking effect this school year, perennial contender Kuna moves up to the 5A SIC, while VALLIVUE drops down with the opening of RIDGEVUE. Vallivue was picked to finish third in the coaches’ poll.
4A SIC WRESTLERS TO WATCH
ISMAEL CERROS, CALDWELL
The only individual champion on the Cougars’ 2016 state title team, Cerros edged Lakeland’s Brian Edelblute 6-5 for the 120-pound championship. The three-time state placer can wrap up his prep career with a second straight title, moving up to 126 this season.
JOSHUA GALLUP, SKYVIEW
After finishing fifth at state as a freshman, Gallup upset top-seeded Sam Edelblute of Lakeland 1-0 in the 98-pound championship last season. Gallup will wrestle in the 98- and 106-pound classes before settling on a division later in the season.
PIERCE MEDERIOS, MOUNTAIN HOME
Mederios won state titles at 98 pounds as a freshman and 106 as a sophomore, but he lost the 113-pound title last season because of a controversial ruling that went in favor of his opponent. “He is a skilled wrestler who upholds the highest level of sportsmanship,” Bishop Kelly coach Travis Ribordy said. Mederios plans to wrestle at 126 to start the season, but may drop to a lower weight in January.
OWEN ROCKWOOD, SKYVIEW
The two wrestlers who placed ahead of him at 195 pounds last season have graduated, making the senior a favorite in the weight class. “Very technical wrestler who I believe will be in the state finals this season,” Middleton coach Keith Love said.
RAPHIE RODRIGUEZ, BISHOP KELLY
Coaches pinpointed the three-time state qualifier and two-time state placer as a sleeper pick at 132 pounds to win his first state title. Rodriguez placed third at 126 last season and sixth at the same weight as a sophomore.
Other returning 2016 state runners-up: Brandon Gonzalez, Caldwell, 132; Cyrus Salcido, Caldwell, 138; Monte Zufelt, Emmett, 126 (3A).
Rachel Roberts: 208-377-6422
4A SIC coaches’ poll
Team (1st-place votes)
1. Caldwell (8)
2. Mountain Home
7. Bishop Kelly