WOODLAND PARK - The Woodland Park High School wrestling room isn’t exactly the sweetest smelling spot in Teller County. But the perspiration dripping from the brows of those training in the facility can be intoxicating to those addicted to the sport.
“We do everything as a team,” said Woodland Park 215-pound senior Caelen Garner. “Everyone shows up and we’re ready to work.”
First-year head coach Keith Sieracki is the architect of the squad. The former Team USA wrestler competed on the world stage for two decades before opening his own studio and beginning a career as a high school coach.
Sieracki worked under former Panthers coach Bill Barron last season. Barron stepped down in the spring to accept a similar position at a boarding school in New York State. But that situation didn’t work as planned, so Barron recently returned to the Pikes Peak region and is living in Black Forest.
“Bill did a good job of putting his reigns on me,” Sieracki said. “I can be pretty intense, but some of these kids are begging for more.”
Garner, along with juniors Jake Morgan (138) and Daniel Corbett (145), are the team captains. It is their job, in part, to make sure the rest of the team stays in line with what Sieracki is preaching and teaching.
“His practices are gnarly,” Morgan said. “He’s getting us in shape. That’s for sure.
“He teaches us a lot of base stuff. He focuses a lot on technique.”
Sieracki inherits a program that is thirsty for success. The Panthers had no state qualifiers last year. Garner’s fifth-place finish at regionals was the best of anybody on the team.
“We’ve definitely picked up the intensity in the wrestling room,” Sieracki said. “Six or seven of these guys are locked in, and whatever I say they’ll do it. The others are coming along.
“We have some work ahead of us, but I seem some great things ahead of us, too.”
Other key contributors include sophomores Jesse Weatherill (126) and Tommy Hancock (113), and juniors Josh Smith (170), Jonathan Hinton (160) and Micha Sanger (120).
“Jesse and Tommy have made a big commitment to off-season training,” Sieracki said. “If Jesse and Tommy wrestled Jesse and Tommy from last year they would destroy each other.
“Tommy calls me almost every day asking me what he can do to make himself better.”
The Panthers will be tested right away when they host a solid Palmer Ridge team tonight at 7 p.m. in the main gym. It will also be a reunion, of sorts, for Sieracki. His younger brother, Aaron, is an assistant coach with Palmer Ridge.
“We’re both competitive,” Sieracki said. “I’m sure it will be a lot of fun.”