It’s not every year a high school graduates 17 members off its wrestling squad, but that’s what happened at Bear River in 2012.
As a result, the Pioneer Valley League champs are faced with a landslide of new challenges this season, and getting back to the basics will be a popular theme.
Seniors J’Sean Harwood, Brent Wenger, Travis McKnight and Devin Schumacher are going to need to be an influential wave of enthusiasm and experience for the rest of the team to tap into.
“We do lots of drills with different situations to prepare for the matches,” said coach Kevin Figueroa, Nevada Union alumnus and seven-year coach of Bear River. “They’re very good leaders. They come from football, so they have stamina, strength and experience to help the younger wrestlers who are handling conditioning very well.”
The Bruins are coming off a season filled with multiple high points. Four of their guys qualified for the Masters tournament last year, and the team took first in the PVL. However, this year, 30 percent of the team is experienced while the other 70 percent is brand new to the sport, Figueroa said.
“Seventeen seniors graduated. We did a lot of campaigning around campus,” said Figueroa. “I told the guys to bring a friend. (The new guys) all have heart and are getting more comfortable with experience. As they get more fundamental footwork, they’ll have sturdier feet.”
Despite all the fresh faces, the Bruins are not approaching this season like a rebuilding year. The mentality and approach is still very much the same. They want to win.
“We want to fight for the title,” Figueroa said. “It would be great to repeat. We just need to get as much experience as we can on the mat and have ourselves prepared so we can represent the school well.”
Harwood, or “Shaggy” as some of his teammates call him, finished with seven sacks on the gridiron for the Bruins and has high expectations for himself on the mat in the 145-pound weight class.
“I’d like to shoot more and attack,” said Harwood. “I’m great defensively. I’m just trying to go as far as I can. I’m really strong, have a short temper, and sometimes it comes in handy.”
Wenger, a senior in the 182-pound weight class went to Masters last season and is confident this season holds even greater possibilities.
“I’m quick, powerful and smart with how I move,” Wenger said. “Pinning people with the cradle is my favorite. I want to make it to state.”
McKnight, one of the Bruins’ biggest competitors, falling into the 220-pound class, also has his sights set on improving from what he accomplished last season.
“Last year, I made it to Masters,” said McKnight. “I’m aggressive when I need to be. Stepping on the mat is a thrill. I just do what I do. I like the lateral drop … I’d like it if we won the PVL for the team and for myself to make the Masters and farther.”
Last weekend, the Bruins placed 10th out of 20 teams at the Vista Eagle Varsity Invitational at Vista del Lago.
Being aggressive on the mat isn’t so much a choice as it is a strategy, said Figueroa, adding that some wrestlers like to make the first move while others wait to counter their opponents’ attack and expose their mistakes.
This Bear River team is striving to demonstrate it can be aggressive, he said.
“We have swimmers, cross country and football players, so they’ve been cross training by sport,” Figueroa said. “They’re enjoying the pain.”
The Bruins will continue to test the waters with their renovated team in a tournament today at Oakdale.
To contact Sports Writer Brian Shepard, call (530) 477-4234 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“(The new guys) all have heart and are getting more comfortable with experience.”
— Kevin Figueroa,
Bear River coach