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Larger numbers lead to improvement for Andes Central team

After a one-year hiatus, the Andes Central Eagles returned to the wrestling mat last year in limited numbers, but depth has led to added success in 2014.

The Andes Central wrestling team’s roster jumped from five at the end of last year to 12 heading into today’s Class B state tournament, where three Eagles have earned a spot to compete.

“Last year, we had our heavyweights practicing with our 106-pounders and that’s never a good thing,” Andes Central coach Rich Stephens said.

The school had a co-op relationship with Platte-Geddes prior to the 2013 season, but the end of that partnership and the failure to form a new co-op with Wagner left Andes Central without a single wrestler on a high school roster.

Stephens, now in his second season as the school’s wrestling and football coach, stepped in to help revive the program. He was an assistant with Wagner for four years before taking over at Andes Central.

Having teammates to drill with in practice has helped the young Eagles progress, and Stephens credits the success of his small team last year for the newfound appeal of the program.

“We had two kids make the state tournament last year as eighth graders and that is something others want to be a part of,” Stephens said about the additions to the roster this season.

Freshmen Leo Hopkins and Tre’zen Doren each made the state tournament for the Eagles last year and are making a return trip in their freshmen seasons.

“Leo is consistently getting tougher and Tre has been focused all year,” Stephens said.

Hopkins will compete at 120 pounds after winning the Region 3B title Saturday. Doren will be a part of the 285-pound weight class bracket, and along with Hopkins, is looking to place this weekend after missing the podium last season.

Transfer Zach Rucktaeschel, 132 pounds, will make his first state tournament appearance for the Eagles.

With the top wrestlers on the team being young, Stephens said the team is without a vocal leader, while adding his leaders have helped teammates by example.

“I am a football coach, but I can tell you that wrestling is the ultimate team sport,” Stephens said.

The Andes Central program is showing signs of stability as a standalone squad, but the possibility of joining forces with another school is always on the table with for any small school, according to Stephens.

“You never know what the future is going to hold as far as a co-op, but right now we are happy to just be Andes Central,” Stephens said.