The Douglas wrestling team entered the year having lost two of the top heavyweight wrestlers in the state (189-pounder Shane Miller and 275-pounder Matt Castro) to graduation.
Tiger coach Lamont McCann insisted that there was no need to worry as he was returning a solid group of experienced and talented middleweights this year.
It turned out he was right as the Tigers rumbled through their dual match schedule to claim a share of their second-consecutive Sierra League title and take second place in the Northern 4A Regional Championships.
And next year, with five of six starters graduating from the middleweight ranks, the Tigers will slide down the scale one more notch to find their strength.
Douglas will return all six of its lightweight starters, three of which placed at regionals and five of which entered the regional tournament as a top-four seed.
They also get the services of Tony Ferris back, who won this year's 171-pound regional title and was proficient at both the 171-pound and 189-pound level throughout the season.
He could realistically excel at a number of heavyweight classes next season as a senior.
But all that aside, this season's squad provided the answer as to whether the new program installed by McCann as a rookie head coach in 2005-06 was just a flash in the pan, or whether it could be the foundation for a lasting dynasty.
Douglas had a tough opening week, facing rival and eventual co-champ Carson without a number of wrestlers who were either out with injuries or were not able to qualify for the state's new hydration requirements.
Carson prevailed in two early season matchups, but the Tigers battled through to top Fallon, North Valleys, Spanish Springs and Reno heading into a crucial league match-up with the upstart Damonte Ranch Mustangs.
The two squads were evenly matched for most of the contest, but the Tigers pulled away with a strong run through its vaunted middleweights, including pins from freshman Cody Spates (130 pounds), senior Devin Barker (140) and Ferris (171) and big wins from Ryan Pruitt (152) and Sean Molina (189).
Douglas turned around and won the Natumas City Dual Tournament as Ferris and sophomore Nico Barker (125 pounds) won outstanding wrestler honors.
Two weeks later, at the Lowry Invitational, Douglas proved it would be a true contender in any individual format as the Tigers took third overall out of 30 teams and placed higher than any Nevada team.
112-pounder Garrett Hekhuis and Molina each took home individual titles and Pruitt took second placce while the Barker brothers each finished third.
Douglas later won its own tournament, the Lions Club Invitational, as Molina, Pruitt, Ferris and 119-pounder Ryan Olsen each took home individual titles, and the Alhambra Tournament in Martinez, Calif., where Hekhuis and Olsen each won individual titles.
The next week, Douglas polished off Wooster in the Tigers' home-finale, stretching McCann's record to 7-0 at home as a head coach.
A week later, the Tigers came up just short in the regional championships as Carson took the overall title while Molina and Ferris each claimed individual regional titles.
Molina, Pruitt, standout 160-pounder Jake WIlliams, Devin Barker, and Nick Ceglia will all graduate, leave five of six spots open in the middle of the lineup.
The lighter side of the roster, however, should return Wesley Peterson (103), Hekhuis (112), Olsen (119), Nico Barker (125), Spates (130) and Justin Freeman (135). Utility wrestler CJ Wynar will also be fighting for a starting sport.
McCann said his team will be participating in a number of tough offseason and summer tournaments and he'll continue to step up the offseason conditioning program in the hopes of lifting the bar just a little higher after two consecutive regional runner-up finishes.
-- Joey Crandall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (775) 782-5121, ext. 212.