Mountain House High School’s first wrestling team has already found success at the start of the 2014-15 season.
Mustang wrestling coach Garrett Beal sees a handful of freshmen and sophomores — the school won’t have juniors until next year — who will compete at the varsity level in Trans Valley League dual meets and at varsity tournaments.
“I have been continually surprised at how well they’re learning,” Beal said, adding that the Mustangs’ first tournament, the Bristow Brawl at Atwater High on Saturday, was a chance for nine of the 16 Mountain House wrestlers who attended to bring home medals, even as some of them competed in their first matches ever.
Especially gratifying to Beal was seeing his new group of wrestlers beat competitors from Gregori High of Modesto, where Beal coached for three years before he took a job teaching physical education at Mountain House High.
“I told them, that should be a testament to how fast you’re learning,” he said. “Every boy that wrestled got a win, and two of our girls got a win, out of five. I’m very impressed.”
Mustang sophomore co-captain Josh Grande started his season with a silver medal in the junior varsity 132-pound bracket at the Bristow Brawl.
“I went to the tournament last year, but I wrestled in a higher competition (this year), so there were more experienced guys there,” said Grande, who wrestled at Kimball High as a freshman. He said he was ready for the competition to get increasingly tougher. “I hope to take on the challenge and embrace it.”
Mountain House’s gold medalists at the Bristow Brawl included sophomore Jeremiah Viray (145) and Alex Avaliotis (160), who wrestled in the novice bracket, reserved for wrestlers who had not yet won a match.
Viray said it was an encouraging beginning in a sport he joined only a couple of months ago.
“You’re able to challenge yourself and compete one-on-one against someone else where it’s just your skill against theirs,” he said.
Also in the novice tournament, which had multiple brackets in some weight classes, sophomore Xenevien Meeks (132) placed second, and freshmen Kyle Lopez (120), Tahjae Jack (126), Jacob Bowers (126), Frzam Nazami (195) and Miguel Navaras (285) all placed third.
Beal, 26, and a graduate of Grace Davis High in Modesto and California State University, Stanislaus, in Turlock, said he felt Mountain House High would be an ideal place for his first teaching job. He said Principal Ben Fobert’s vision of a technology-based school fit well with Beal’s idea of using instructional video production as a way for students to demonstrate the skills they’ve learned in P.E.
As coach, Beal has found that the 34 wrestlers who signed up for the inaugural team, including six girls, are eager to learn. He credited co-captains Grande and Antonio Fowler, who was also a freshman wrestler at Kimball last year, with keeping practices organized.
Fowler said he remembered how much it meant to him to have experienced teammates when he was a new wrestler.
“The coaches there were great. The seniors and upper-classmen took us under their wing and helped us a lot,” he said.
He added that the best characteristic of his Mustang teammates was how quickly they overcame any fears about the competition.
“They’re not scared to try new moves, try new defenses that we’ve just learned,” Fowler said. “They’re picking everything up really fast. They’re confident.”
Beal has identified nine wrestlers who he thinks could be competitive at the varsity level at the Mustangs’ Trans Valley League dual meets coming up in January, including a home meet against Riverbank and Modesto Christian on Jan. 7.
“I’ll put it up to my judgment who will actually go varsity to fill up a lineup. We’re going to have empty weight classes,” he said.
Beal has also scheduled the team for two varsity tournaments, including the JAG Varsity Tournament at Gregori High on Jan. 17, and Pitman High’s Rumble in the Jungle on Jan. 31.