It takes just a matter of seconds for Valley Center wrestling coach Brian Shelton to come up with the word that describes his team's recent success: Continuity.
There's a common philosophy that starts at the top with Shelton and his assistant and former high school teammate Corey Jones. It moves down to the junior varsity coaches, who graduated from Valley Center, and even to the coaches at the middle school, who also went through the Hornets program.
"We all know the same things," Shelton said. "The kids get the same instruction, which makes it an easier transition when they get to the high school."
Over the past few seasons, the Hornets have hung around the top of state tournaments, finishing as high as third as a team two seasons ago.
With six state qualifiers returning, including two defending state champions, the Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association has pegged Valley Center as the team to beat in Class 4A in its preseason rankings.
"It's nice to be noticed, but honestly those preseason rankings mean nothing to me," Shelton said. "If we are at the top of the postseason rankings, then I will be excited."
The two champions returning, Chase Nitcher (125 pounds) and Cade Blair (140), went a combined 95-1 last season. Nitcher has finished third, second and first at the state tournament in his three seasons, while Blair is a two-time champion.
The other four returning wrestlers who qualified went a combined 154-49 last season, so it's easy to see why Valley Center is the prohibitive favorite.
For Nitcher and Blair, all the individual accomplishments mean nothing if the Hornets can't finally take home that elusive team title.
"One of my goals is getting everybody better so we can win state as a team," Blair said. "I think we are the favorite because honestly, I don't know if any team works as hard as we do."
It will be interesting to see what dropping to 4A means for Valley Center. Having to deal with a top-heavy 5A with the likes of Bishop Carroll, Emporia and Arkansas City made getting to the top a difficult task.
Not that 4A is any easier, but it might offer fewer teams with as much quantity of talent as those in 5A.
"It all depends on what the weight classes and matchups are like," said Nitcher, speaking about the 4A tournament. "We know there are some expectations for us but that makes everybody know what they have to in order for us to be successful in February."