Bear River wrestling squad continues to grow in numbers, experience |

Bear River wrestling squad continues to grow in numbers, experience

It’s been a long and winding road for the Bear River Bruins wrestling program and head coach Kevin Figueroa, but the 2018-2019 season is taking a leap in the right direction.

The Bruins 17-man and one-woman roster boasts all levels of talent and interest, and Figueroa intends to keep the momentum rolling straight on through to the new year.

“I think we’ll probably have seven of our kids make it on to postseason,” said Figueroa, whose squad split its opening double dual Pioneer Valley League match Dec. 12 at Colfax, defeating Foothill, but falling to Center by a narrow nine-point margin. “There’s a good strong three, possibly four that will make it to Masters. It’s not quite rebuilding year. It’s improving.

“Every one of the people here are friends from someone. We’re going, ‘Hey you’re in here, bring a friend next week.’ And they brought a friend.”

This year’s squad features six seniors, Micah Warner, Aidan Smith, Chandler Brown, and also includes Jared Baze, Hunter Daniels and Trae Nix, who are fresh off the gridiron from another winning season and deep playoff run. However, the spectrum of skill sets ranges broadly, with the majority of the roster quite green.

“We are really young,” Figueroa said. “We have, like, seven freshmen wrestlers. They are freshmen, first-year, never-touched-the-mat and coming in they are enjoying it … Next year we’re going to be picking up three eighth-grade female wrestlers so that’s going to be nice.”

Making a lot of noise on the mat thus far has been Bruins’ second-year and lone female wrestler, sophomore Ashlyn Canizalez, who has taken the inspiration from her uncle to new heights and advanced to the medal rounds in her last three tournaments.

“My uncle is a coach and he deployed a year before my freshman year and it meant a lot to him and my family,” said Canizalez, who also keeps busy on the Bruins softball diamond and enjoys rocking out on the ukulele. “It was really hard last year just being … the only female on the team and just getting into it, I guess, but I’m really happy I did. I learned what the sport is about and just the basics of things.

“I thought I knew what it was but I really didn’t. I just learned everything like shots, breaking people down … The conditioning in here is ridiculous. (Softball) is still hard, but in a different way. It doesn’t mentally and physically push you all at the same time.”

Another pleasant surprise for Bear River has been sophomore Skylar Miller, who is seeing action in the 120-pound weight class this season, up from the 113s last year.

“(I was) trying to make it to Masters last year and I made it,” said Miller, defending PVL champion. “I wish I didn’t go two-and-out, but it happened. I’ll try to make it farther, get to State. (In the) off-season I was lifting weights and running. Everything together … endurance, the moves, are coming together well.”

Senior wrestler Aidan Smith (182-pounds) also took the PVL title in his weight class last season and relished his opportunity at Masters, where he won a match before being eliminated.

“I couldn’t go any further than that, but it was a good year,” said Smith, who still strives to find improvement as well as adopt a leadership role for his teammates. “I’ve been doing a lot more live work, like active matches rather than just drilling. Right now I’m trying to focus more on technique rather than strength. My coach says that I’m strong, but I don’t have the finesse.

“He’ll sometimes make me wrestle with my eyes closed just so I can feel what everything is and get the moves down so I get that good muscle memory.”

Figueroa welcomes all hands on deck in preparing the team at practice, using the help of alumni Trevor Bisagno and Carter Danieli, in addition to assist Jeff Danieli.

“I still get on the mat,” Figueroa said, chuckling. “It takes me a little while to get back into condition, but once I do I start rolling with them and it’s my weight loss program for the winter.”

The Bruins opened their season Dec. 1 at a stacked Vista Del Lago tournament in Folsom, which featured over 30 teams, including powerhouses Folsom, Del Oro and Selma. Miller and Smith made a strong showing at the team’s debut, placing third and fourth respectively.

From there, Bear River took part in the Chris Savedea 28-school tourney at Wheatland High School where Nix took sixth and Miller brought home second.

On the horizon for the Bruins over the holiday break is the No Guts No Glory tournament, Dec. 28-29, at the Hardwood Palace in Rocklin. After New Year’s the team is going to the Joe Rios tourney, Jan. 4-5, in Chico.

It’s all fine-tuning for Bear River (1-1 PVL), which dives back on the mat for another PVL double dual against league newcomers Marysville and Lindhurst on Jan. 8 at Lindhurst High School.

Brian Shepard is a freelance sports writer who contributes to The Union regularly.

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