It’s all come down to this. With the Pioneer Valley League season in the rear view mirror, the Bear River wrestling squad now shifts its focus to the individual platform where it has four wrestlers who have extended their seasons to the Sac-Joaquin D-III Divisional Tournament.
Senior Carter Danieli, juniors Trevor Bisagno and Sam Elizondo and sophomore Trenton McKnight are among the Bruins’ remaining. Each has earned his respective spot at divisionals after putting together great performances at the PVL Championships last week. They will all be competing today and Saturday at Whitney High School for the right to advance to Masters.
“Three, if not all four of them, have a chance for Masters,” said an enthusiastic Bear River head coach Kevin Figueroa. “They’ve all earned spots, put in extra work and conditioning outside of practice. They’ve stayed on task. I like seeing them start to achieve expectations and go beyond them. Watching them challenge themselves, there’s nothing more enjoyable than that.”
For some, finding the motivation within oneself to fight on and overcome challenges is easy. Setting goals and striving toward them is part of the sport, but there are other components that add pressure, too, such as being a senior and knowing it’s your last chance or losing a team-family member unexpectedly to injury.
“This is my final year, so I’ll go hard and do as best I can,” said Danieli, who will be battling in the 115-pound division. “It’s been kind of stressful on myself because my brother (Noah Danieli) is not there anymore (out with an injury). I really wanted him and I to go to Masters together. I’ll approach it like PVL, one match, one opponent at a time. Executing is a lot more than just preparing. On my days off I run miles and miles to get more conditioned and focused. It clears my head a lot.”
Not only have the four fine-tuned Bruin athletes put in the work to get where they are, they are continuing to do so especially now, more than ever, since they are locked into their respective weight classes for the duration of the season. Failing to maintain weight results is an automatic disqualification.
“I want to be between 128 to 132,” explained Bisagno. “No more carbs. I’m living off chicken and vegetables pretty much. The competition is tougher and the season is over if you lose. You need the drive to want to keep going further. I’m striving for Masters. I wrestle with my game plan and my heart.”
To have invested such a tremendous amount of time and effort to get to this point and be just a few matches away from Masters, one would think the prize alone would be enough fuel to keep pushing forward. Yet, there are sometimes far more simple explanations that give athletes the motivation they need to pursue new heights.
“My goal is to be better than my brother,” said McKnight (197), whose older brother Travis graduated last year.
“He went to Masters twice. I want to go three times. He’d probably laugh (if I told him that). I’ve been trying to mentally prepare more with the offensive moves I’m going to be using and defensively with situations I get into. Basically, it’s win or go home. I just have to be calm, drown everything out and just focus on one match, one step at a time.”
Whether superstitious or not, at this juncture in the season it’s also a good thing to stick to a routine. One tradition that has lived strong for Bear River in every tournament has been McKnight’s mom preparing 40 breakfast burritos, which leaves plenty to go around for seconds, thirds, etc. They will be on the menu today once again for the Bruins before they hit the mat.
However, there is one Bruin who prefers slurping noodles above everything else, and he is optimistic about the steep road ahead after making some key adjustments at the league tournament.
“Last week I wrestled the guy from Center who beat me by tech in duals,” said Elizondo (222). “I lost 8-7. I didn’t finish him the first time. I hope I see him at sections. I hope to see the guy from Placer again. I’ve been working a lot on my top position. The past two years I was in the higher weight class. Now I’m getting a chance to wrestle guys my own size. I faced some pretty big giants. The excitement, the thrill of the build up, I love it but I hate it. It’s fun and scary. In two matches, that could be your season.”
If Bear River can advance all four wrestlers to the Masters it would truly be a great accomplishment for a young team that has already taken impressive strides toward building up its program for the future.
Brian Shepard is a freelance sports writer who contributes to The Union regularly.