As the Class 2 defending state champion, the Mexico varsity wrestling team enters this years state meet at Mizzou Arena in Columbia this weekend with a half dozen reasons to believe it's about to have yet another strong showing.

Keeping in mind that even though the Bulldogs love and cherish their tradition, the focus now is on who they have as opposed to who they don't. That means not worrying about those that have graduated and simply focusing on the six athletes that qualified to compete at this event this season. The most obvious name among that group is defending 138 lb. state champ and current 145 lb. district champ Dillon Nichols, a senior who has already verbally committed to Northern Illinois University.

"Dillon Nichols is a gamer. This is his fourth trip to the state tournament and he is looking for his second state title," said coach Gayle Adams. "I feel the only person that can beat Dillon is Dillon. As a coaching staff it’s our job to have him ready and we will do that. Dillon will take one match at a time. This tournament is just another tournament for him. He will be ready to roll every time he steps on the mat."

Mexico's other district champion at 132 lbs and someone who has a real shot a state title himself is Kevin Duong. The junior progressed tremendously on the mat competing with all the quality talent this program has had over the past several seasons, but he also grew intellectually this year based on the leadership void this squad had when he stepped up and became what his team needed him to be.

"Duong is a three-time state qualifier. This year is different because he is more confident," Adams said. "Kevin has put the work in over the years this doesn’t happen overnight. Kevin has trained for this by lifting, running, wrestling and preparing for big matches. Kevin loves to compete and win. Kevin is ready and he accepts the challenge. He wants a state medal and he has put himself in the position to win."

One individual who's no stranger to the state meet, leading this program or any other role any Bulldog has been asked to play under coach Adams is Blayne Weiberg. When it comes to the building blocks of Mexico wrestling's success, that's been Weiberg's prep career on the mat. Wherever Adams has needed him, not only has that been where he fit in, Weiberg would then flourish in that weight class for an entire season followed by qualifying for the state meet, a task he completed in three different classes.

"Blayne Wieberg is a three-time state qualifier for us. Blayne has been apart of some really good teams," said Adams. "He knows what it takes to win. He will be ready to scrap on Thursday. Blayne is a big part of Mexico Wrestling. He makes this sport great for Mexico. He has done a lot for Mexico Wrestling."

At 285 most people are familiar with what used to be for the Bulldogs, so the fact Maverick Sadler is actually a rather accomplished wrestler who has been dealing with football injuries the past several seasons isn't knowledge that's common to everyone. The fact Sadler has such a deep background as a youth grappler, yet he seems to fly under the radar, could easily work to his advantage, though, a storyline that will either pick up momentum or fade into the background depending on his performance.

"Sadler is an athletic heavyweight. He’s strong, stays in good position and is still getting his feet wet after two years off from wrestling," Adams said. "He’s really never recovered from his football injuries. The best is yet to come from Maverick. We will have a game plan for Maverick for this weekend but if he stays in good position and scores when times are right he will be bring home a state medal. Maverick loves to compete and show everyone how good he is. He hates to lose."

Size-wise Sadler's polar opposite would be Keith Ransom at 106. While he's young, it's not uncommon at that weight. Staying at that weight as a teenager continues to develop is what's uncommon. One thing Ransom has brought to the table this season for Mexico is that he's a pace setter. He moves fast and keeps moving that way until someone forces him to stop, an admirable trait especially at tournaments where multiple matches can leave anyone feeling drained and overworked.

"Keith Ransom knows wrestling, Keith has put a lot a miles in on the mat. If Keith can clean up a few little mistakes he’s in the hunt for a state title," said Adams. "Keith will wrestle hard for six minutes every time he steps on the line. Keith is ready to fight for every point. It’s going to be fun watching him grow over the weekend and I’m excited to see what he is made of."

Another wrestler who's new to the varsity, but has been welcomed with open arms based on the heart he's shown, has been Dylan Mosely at 126. In his district title match against Centralia's Duke Newsted the Bulldogs freshman was put in numerous uncomfortable, ever-worsening positions and appeared to be just miserable for what felt like minutes on end. But, instead of looking for an easy way out Mosely fought the entire time and did everything he could to launch a comeback no matter the adversity.

"Dylan Mosley is an emotional kid. He wants to do his best every time he goes out and he doesn’t disappoint," Adams said. " If Dylan comes ready he will surprise a lot of people at the state tournament. Dylan is a just like the other guys. He’s a gamer. He set goals this year and he’s not done yet. Dylan is a hard guy to wrestle. His style is a little different and that’s okay because it wins matches."

The Missouri State High School Activities Association Championships are slated for Feb. 14-16 at Mizzou Arena in Columbia. Weigh-ins take place on Thursday at 7 a.m. for Classes 1 and 2 and Classes 3 and 4 weigh-in at 3 p.m. Gates will open Thursday at 8 a.m. and matches start for Class 1 and 2 at 9 a.m.

"This team is gritty and has a never quit attitude. I’m very happy with my guys," said Adams. "I always want more state qualifiers but the whole team worked hard this year. We have something different to grow on. We will be ready to scrap this weekend and we will be looking for state medals."