Culture is often pointed out as a crucial factor in the success of athletic programs. A culture provides a roadmap for how a program runs and what it takes to sustain success both in competition and in life outside the sport.
Like every girls wrestling team in the state, Vista Ridge is competing in its first season as a CHSAA sanctioned sport. But the Wolves have spent the better part of five years building a culture that will promote success for this year and for years down the road.
McKenna Reynolds is a product of that. She's off to a dominant 10-0 start to the season and has been relishing the chance for her, and all girls wrestlers across the state, to showcase the skills needed to be successful.
"I wanted people to understand that just because you're a female, you can't do really cool stuff," she said. "That was a problem for a while. I just wanted to make sure people knew you could still do cool stuff."
In each match, Reynolds has had her hand raised after pinning her opponents. It's a reward for the way that the Wolves force themselves to work and get better. Rather than designating team captains, the team operates on a pack leadership mentality and it's something that has been noticed by USA Wrestling.
It's also what continues to help Reynolds develop as a competitor as well as pushing her teammates to improve along the way.
"The idea behind the Pack Leader Council is more of a mentorship program," coach Eric Everard said. "It helps with confidence and self-esteem and everything that goes with that. We do hiking, we go up the (Manitou) Incline, we do 14ers, we do first aid, I do land nav with them - reading a map, how to not get lost. Things like that."
A wrestling man at heart, the emphasis on the the Pack Leadership Council helps him develop of level of trust with his team. That's been the biggest difference in coaching boys and coaching girls. The respect has to be there, but the path to that success looks vastly different.
"When I was at the (Olympic Training Center), I asked coach Terry Steiner was the biggest difference was," Everard said. "He said boys have to respect you. They can either respect what you do in the room or what you've done on the mat, but girls have to trust you. They don't care if you can beat them or what you've done on the mat."
The trust carries a lot of weight and Reynolds will rely on it as she continues her push to win a state championship.
Originally from the Detroit area, she has not been present at previous Colorado state championship tournaments at Ball Arena, but she is aware of the pomp and circumstance involved with it.
And while the 2021 tournament will look slightly different due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she's excited and proud knowing that the girls will have their own seat at the table.
"I'm hoping this draws more girls to the sport," Reynolds said. "I'm hoping everyone is just as excited as we are. I've never been to that state tournament, but I've definitely seen it. I always thought it was really cool and it would be awesome to compete at that kind of stadium."
She has to keep winning to get there. That effort continues this weekend as the Wolves compete at the Alpha Female Survivor Tri-Meet on Friday and the Douglas County Quad on Saturday.