It didn’t take long for the Bear River wrestling squad to understand and accept it’s facing an uphill climb with a young and inexperienced team, but every step is forward as its wrestlers’ passions and skill sets continue to blossom with every competition.
“Overall, the team is great and improving more,” said head coach Kevin Figueroa. “Junior Carter Danieli won first place at El Camino. Every tournament is practice until PVL. It’s all about learning and preparing so they can apply their skills against an opponent and have a larger arsenal of moves.”
The Bruins opened the Pioneer Valley League competition at home Jan. 10 with a 51-27 loss against Foothill, but considering they surrendered 24 points due to forfeiting a few weight classes, both teams were pretty evenly matched.
Bear River tried to rebound Jan. 16 as it traveled for a dual match against Center, but the Cougars simply outmatched the Bruins’ depth and experience for the victory.
“Danieli and Reed Johnson did well,” said Figueroa. “Danieli was able to attack his opponent, and Johnson battled all three rounds for a decision. (Brent) Wenger had a tough match against Center’s state qualifier, and (Travis) McKnight had tough matches against other throwers with lateral drop moves.”
Ideally, Bear River would still like to compete for the PVL title, but that’s a lofty expectation at this juncture of the season for a team that is striving to improve its beginners.
“We have to build from the bottom up,” Figueroa added. “Trevor Bisagno has progressed very well and is having a positive second half of the year in the 126 weight class. Our little Bethany, the only girl on the team, got her first win against Foothill.”
Everyone is making the necessary adjustments in practice and looking more comfortable on the mat.
“The newer kids on the team are finally enjoying it and love the sport,” said Figueroa. “In our first tournament, we had 10 wrestlers out within 12 minutes. Last tournament, six of nine placed at El Camino. We were getting like one medal, and now we have six.”
It’s not all about rebuilding for Bear River this season though. The Bruins have wrestled in seven tournaments so far, and while the team may not have come away with a spot on the podium, some individuals have.
Senior Wenger sports an individual record of 29-7 and has placed in every single tournament, said Figueroa.
“My best placing was at El Camino when I came in first,” said Wenger. “I’m most proud of finishing second at Oakdale. It’s a big tournament, and I didn’t even place last year, so it was sweet.”
Senior McKnight, who boasts an 18-8 record, took first place at El Camino and has shown vast improvement throughout the season as his body has been able to recover since playing on the football team, Figueroa said.
“I got to be the No. 1 seed at Masters last year, and this year, I won first at El Camino and third at the Valley of the Moon Tournament,” McKnight said.
The Bruin upperclassmen also acknowledge their young teammates’ efforts to make progress.
“No one is slacking anymore,” said Wenger. “Everyone is trying harder. Our last dual versus Foothill, the team really bonded. We can feel it for real now. The first couple tournaments, lots of guys were two and out. It doesn’t happen anymore. We at least win one or two matches and don’t get pinned anymore.”
Bear River also has a bright future ahead thanks to Greg Mitchell, who runs Magnolia’s wrestling program.
“Greg is doing a fantastic job,” Figueroa said. “Mitchell works with kids third through eighth grade and has about 48 wrestlers right now. These kids will have a lot more experience under their belt when they get to the high school level. They’ll have the fundamentals, the technique, a passion for the sport, and I’ll work to polish them off.”
The Bruins sent four of their wrestlers to the Tim Brown Memorial Wrestling Tournament Jan. 18 at the Sacramento Convention Center. The tournament is extremely tough and features a 14-mat configuration to accommodate almost 900 wrestlers, said Figueroa. Approximately half of the kids went home Friday in the two-day double-elimination tournament.
Wenger led the Bruins and made it into the second day of competition, battling his way onto the podium and taking home an eighth-place medal from a field of about 70 others in the 182-pound weight class, Figueroa said. He continues to improve his technique, using “the cradle” as his go to move. Wenger defeated two state qualifiers from last year as he went 5-3 over the weekend. No other Bruins advanced to the second day.
The rest of the team went to the Jason White Memorial Tournament at Lindhurst High School to hit the mat against 23 other teams Saturday, according to Figueroa.
Danieli went 3-1 and finished in second place in the 126-pound weight class. Bisagno went 2-2 and grabbed the sixth spot in the same class. Isaiah-Sky Conley-Stroup also had a great performance, going 3-1 and taking third place for the 195-pound weight class.
To contact Sports Writer Brian Shepard, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4234.