Against all odds, high school wrestlers have taken the mat in large numbers this spring, and to a person, are just grateful for the opportunity to compete in a short season.
El Molino coaches Ryan Berger and Mike Ricioli have taken the reins from former coaches Ron and Josh Wright, stepping up to lead a hungry group of 11 athletes, including some of the best high school wrestlers in the region.
Unlike normal years however, this season will not feature any postseason tournaments, including North Coast Section or CIF State Championships.
“We’re very happy that we’re doing our best to salvage what little bit of the wrestling season there is — especially for the seniors who didn't get a final year of competition and recognition,” Berger said. “Our roster is comprised of about half new wrestlers versus experienced/moderately experienced wrestlers. “We have attempted to split practices up into JV and varsity to teach JV fundamentals and higher-level technique for the varsity kids.”
Returning to lead the varsity squad are a seasoned and decorated core of seniors that includes nationally ranked and second place state medalist Hannah Ricioli, league champion and North Coast Section placer Erik Dimond, league medalist and NCS qualifier Zavier Grech. Second year returnees are senior Kaio Gaspar-Thompson and juniors Jonny Wheeler and Lily Marrufo.
“Hannah, Erik and Zavier are our most experienced wrestlers who have had quite a bit of success in the past,” Berger said. “It’s been difficult finding them competitive matches this season due to the limitations, but they’ve performed well so far.”
Other wrestlers competing for the Lions are junior Lily Alicia, sophomore Alex Sieg, and freshmen Trenton Montiel, Wesley Wolff, Wyatt Zbinden and TC Espinosa.
The abbreviated spring campaign has been challenging in the early going, with many of the younger athletes getting a crash course in wrestling technique.
“This short season has proven challenging because we had to quickly teach our new wrestlers the fundamentals in a three-week time period when normally you would have months to get the team prepared,” Berger noted. “This also presents a problem in not being able to teach your more experienced athletes higher level technique when so much time is focused on teaching the basics.”
The Lions have already logged two matches so far, squaring off with Elsie Allen and Piner in a pair of dual meets.
“We’ve had success in the fact that we’re learning a lot to set the foundation for future seasons should these kids decide to keep wrestling,” Berger noted. “The team has been very supportive of each other and generally speaking, has picked up skills quickly.”
At press time the Lions were preparing to visit Montgomery in a dual meet on May 18, followed by the home season finale against Rancho Cotate on May 25 (Senior Night). The match starts at 6 p.m.