PITTSBURG — After saying goodbye to a solid group of seniors, the Pittsburg High School wrestling team reloads with another veteran group which looks to make its mark in the state championship.

Although other schools might expect the PHS to take a step back this season, the Purple Dragons believe they can continue to live up to their high standards.

“Last season, we had a group of seniors who had a lot of experience,” PHS head coach Scott Rieck said. “As a whole, the team was solid up and down. This season, we’ll have at least five or six seniors in the lineup and the bulk of this team has a lot of varsity experience. We have several state qualifiers. This team may not have the stingers we had last year, but it’s a good group of guys who have a lot of experience and I think we’ll surprise a lot of people.”

With a new group of wrestlers who are eager to start winning, Rieck doesn’t believe his team will give anything away.

“Our opponents know that when they see Pittsburg, they’re going to have to compete against a tough kid,” Rieck said. “Traditionally, this is a football and basketball town, but in the last 18 years, we’ve had 48 state medalists in wrestling. This year, the expectations are no different. We aim high, and if we don’t meet our goals, we’ll pick ourselves back up, refocus and get ready for next year.”

Being tough has been a theme for the Purple Dragons’ wrestling program and Rieck said he expects nothing less this time around.

“Like any sport, it takes a lot of dedication to what you’re doing,” he said. “You have to be dedicated and love what you do. Wrestling is an individual sport, but it’s also a team sport. We really push that concept of team sport and these guys really wrestle for each other. They’re dedicated and they know the program has a history of building a lot of tough kids.”

With a personal responsibility to the team, the PHS wrestlers understand their personal choices don’t just affect themselves.

“We just challenge each individual to be better each day,” Rieck said. “We don’t focus on our past and we have to move forward. We don’t compare ourselves to anyone else or any other team. Each individual knows that when they come into practice, they have to do better than they did the day before.”

The Purple Dragons may not have the depth they’ve had in previous years, but if healthy, Rieck said it won’t be an issue.

“We’ll have at least one — maybe two — freshman who will come in and wrestle at the varsity level,” he said. “We’ll just have to see how things go there. The difference between this year’s team and last year is that we don’t have the same amount of depth, so hopefully we keep everyone healthy. However, we have a good eighth-grade class right now which will roll in next year and could start for us.”

As with every season, qualifying for state will be an uphill battle, but the PHS wrestlers wouldn’t have it any other way.

“For us to be successful at the state level, the four who made it last year will have to be better the last time they went,” Rieck said. “The guys who didn’t make it to state know that their job is to qualify and get themselves there. Once they’re there, the next goal is to place. It’s up to the individual wrestler to make sure that they did better today than the day before. If you do that, good things will happen.”

 — Jordan Buckamneer is the sports editor of the Pittsburg Morning Sun. E-mail him at jbuckamneer@morningsun.net and follow him on Twitter@jbuckamneer.