When it became apparent the wrestling coaches position would soon become vacant, Southeast athletic director Mark Lamb knew his first call.
Of the 10 boys sports offered at Southeast, the wrestling program is the one to never win a City League championship. Lamb knew the program needed Mike Atlee.
“He’s turned a lot of programs around and I know he would do a great job with ours,” Lamb said. “I had all the confidence in him. I know we’re going in the right direction now.”
At first, Atlee was hesitant to leave his position at South for what could only be described as a downgrade in terms of competitiveness. After all, the Buffaloes finished 32nd out of 32 teams at the Class 6A meet last season.
But the opportunity to start anew and build something from the ground up intrigued Atlee, and his first season has drawn nothing but compliments about the program from his peers.
It may not be much, but Southeast qualifying sophomore Matt Hurley (25-17) in the 132-pound weight class and senior Will Armstrong (29-14) at 152 to Friday’s Class 6A tournament at Hartman Arena in Park City is something Atlee can build on in the coming years.
“At 49 years old, I wasn’t too excited about rebuilding a program to start with,” Atlee said. “But you walk the halls here at Southeast and there are so many good, quality athletes. It’s just about making them make commitments and getting them to stick to them.”
Southeast started the season with 23 wrestlers, which Atlee said was the least he’s ever worked with, and finished with 14. Two graduate, so he has 12 he is counting on being out next season.
That first City League title may be a few years down the road, but Atlee is confident that it is a program capable of reaching territory it has never been before.
“It’s awful hard sometimes and lonely for the kids when you make them be accountable,” Atlee said. “I would much rather teach wrestling than condition and discipline kids all the time, but when there hasn’t been much of either in the past, it takes some time to change. We’re bringing back a solid nucleus. It may take some time, but we’ll get there.”
Six of seven are state-ranked with freshman Logan Treaster (32-1 at 106), junior Jared Langley (37-1 at 182), and senior Raymond Gallegos (33-0 at 285) entering the state meet ranked second in their weight classes.
Gallegos is the one with a perfect season at stake, something he dedicated himself to achieve over the course of the past year. While there is added pressure that accompanies the record, Gallegos thinks his desire to stay perfect exceeds that.
“I know people are going to see that undefeated record and really want to beat me,” Gallegos said. “They’re going to give me everything they have. No one is going to take me lightly and they shouldn’t because I’m definitely not going to take anyone lightly.”
After finishing in the fifth-place match the last two seasons, Newton coach Jack Thaw thinks Gallegos is ready to finish the ascension in his final season.
“He used to not really shoot that much, but he’s developed pretty well on his feet,” Thaw said. “He’s worked on stuff he hasn’t worked on in the past, and that’s really made a difference. He’s more of a complete wrestler now.”
His off-season training has turned Regalado into an even better wrestler, proven by his 24-0 record at 120 pounds entering the state meet. Already a tremendous scrambler, Regalado has turned himself into a threat to score anywhere on the mat.
“It hasn’t been easy,” Regalado said of this season. “There was always a target on my back, but I had to stay focused and concentrate on my goals.”
While he hasn’t dominated every match, Regalado has prevailed in every close match he’s been in and that isn’t due to luck, according to coach Tate Thompson.
“He’s incredible in those close matches because Cesar is very good at visualizing himself in those situations beforehand,” Thompson said. “He trains himself mentally and he puts himself in those situations a lot, so nothing catches him off-guard. He’s so good at dealing with adversity.”