The Tracy High wrestling team found some extra motivation at practice Monday — and just in time.
After a tough stretch in which the Bulldogs wrapped up a second-straight San Joaquin Athletic Association championship with a lackluster win over Franklin before losing in the first round of the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section duals, Tracy coach Darryl Rond could tell his team was gassing out.
“We haven’t looked good for the last three weeks,” he said. “I think we got stale.”
So the Bulldogs kicked off the week with a motivational meeting, shifted their focus from weightlifting to conditioning, with each wrestler running three or more miles before practice. And it worked.
“When we got (into the practice room) everything looked different,” Rond said. “Everyone was ready to wrestle.”
And now, they’re ready to begin the four-week long tournament season, a road that begins today with the San Joaquin Athletic Association meet at Lodi High and — if a wrestler has the right combination of preparation, performance and luck — ends with the CIF State meet March 2 and 3.
“We worked our butts off this week,” said junior Blair Bergmann, one of Tracy’s three wrestlers who finished undefeated in league along with Khalid Azizi and Billy Strmiska. “We haven’t wrestled to our potential all year … I think we’ll do good (Saturday).”
But the Bulldogs can do much better than good. A wrestler need only place in the top four to move on to divisionals, and with only six teams in the SJAA, there’s reason to believe the entire team could move on.
“There’s still 14 weight classes, and 14 kids going on is still our goal — and it’s feasible,” Rond said. “If we wrestle well, it should happen.”
While it eluded them during the regular season, the West High wrestling team is still within striking distance of its first league title.
If the Wolf Pack, who lost only to Stagg before rattling off straight wins over the rest of the Tri-City Athletic League field — including the program’s first-ever win over Tokay — can finish first and keep Stagg at least two places down the line, West will find themselves owners of a championship banner.
“We’re wrestling a lot better than we were in the early part of the season,” West coach Ed Carlos said. “I’m looking forward to seeing how far these guys can go.”
Most of the focus is on senior 130-pounder Mike Simmons, an honorable mention in the latest California Wrestling Newsletter Section rankings. He and 215-pound junior Alvaro Tellez both completed undefeated league seasons — though Tellez found some extra motivation when Tokay’s 215-pounder guaranteed a league title this week.
West also boasts another three should-be finalists in senior heavyweight Nick Nethercott, 152-pounder Juan Villarreal and Kevin Ribelin. All lost only one match in league duals — with Nethercott’s loss to St. Mary’s Andrew Tourville, another ranked wrestler.
“Every match, I’ve gone up to (Nethercott) and said, ‘I need a win from you. I need a pin’ — and he’s done it.” Carlos said. “Against (Tourville) we knew it’d be a tough match and he almost won. It was amazing. Hopefully, if he makes it to the finals he can meet the kid again.”
West has strength elsewhere, too. 189-pounder Paul Silatolu came within a match of qualifying for sections last season, and 103-pounder Jorge Vargas has been tough. But while the Wolf Pack will look to keep competing well into February, there’s no question what the immediate focus is.
“That banner would look real nice in our gym, you know” Tellez said.