The Cougars have claimed the High Desert League six straight seasons and won the North four of the last five (finished second two seasons ago). Imelli’s group is coming off its highest place in the state tournament, ever, after finishing fourth last year.
Having earned the title of ‘elite,’ Imelli’s goals for his Cougars are as steady as the frigid northern Nevada nights: Win league, win the North and advance to the state tourney.
With a turnout between 65-70 kids, the pool of talent is plenty deep enough to draw from but the Cougars' preseason has not gone perfectly.
Defending North heavyweight champion, Chase Hauder, “is out to start to the season” according to Imelli and the Cougs have talent “stockpiled” in weight classes.
Imelli admitted these are early obstacles but he isn’t sweating it out.
“We will certainly have our challenges to start the year,” Imelli said. “But by the end of the year, we should be ready to make a run.”
The Cougars return five of the 10 wrestlers, including Hauder, who advanced to the state tournament a season ago: Brik Chesley who finished second at state in the 195 class, Blake Boswell who finished fourth in state in the 113 class and Tyler Poalillo (120) and Anthony Walsh (220) both finished third in the North last season in their respective weight classes.
The Cougs open their season next Friday in a tournament hosted by Vacaville, Calif.
•While the Spanish Springs wrestling program has been the model of consistency, the Reed wrestling program is starting fresh under new coach Mike Klapp.
No newbie himself, Klapp is entering his 16th year of coaching on the mat after coaching in the middle school and club ranks.
“Transitioning to a new head coach is always a challenge,” Klapp said. “The wrestlers are handling the changes well and seem excited going forward.”
Erik Stockwell, a junior who wrestled in the 152s last winter, is the lone returning Raider who advanced to last year’s state meet.
Jake Otuafi, Damon Gebhardt and Brady Wood were also listed by Klapp as key returners for the Raiders.
Wood is the Raiders' senior leader and possesses “a work ethic that is impressive as he put in lots of time this off-season, sharpening his weapons.”
Klapp added Stockwell, Otuafi and Gebhardt “are veteran club wrestlers and have the technical skills to be dominant.”
A newcomer to the program, freshman Israel Casarez, could also play a large role for the Raiders. Casarez placed in regional and national tournaments this summer.
After going 2-3 in league meetings (topping Hug and Reno), and sending two wrestlers to state (Stockwell and graduate Spencer Empey) Klapp said the goal this season is to finish with an improved league record and send more wrestlers to the state meet.
“Many of our wrestlers are experienced and are more than capable of competing at a high level should they choose to put the time in,” Klapp said.
Empey, who now wrestles at Cal Poly, filled the role of the vocal leader on the squad the past few years. Klapp said the team is still looking for someone to step into that role.
“We have a young and strong group with a lot of talent," Klapp said. “The potential is clearly there; it will be up to the team to grow into a group that is willing to push themselves to reach our goals.”
Reed jumps onto the mat for the first time this season Dec. 11 at Hug.
•Entering his fourth year heading the wrestling program at Sparks High, Ric Fehr is not hesitant to say the program is building.
With only eight wrestlers who finished last year, the Railroaders only came away with league wins over Truckee and Dayton.
“Our league record wasn’t really impressive,” Fehr said.
But that is not to say Fehr has a couple pieces to work with on his young squad.
Senior David Valentine (heavyweight) qualified for the state meet a season ago. The other senior on the squad, Tymon Dozier (145s), is also expected to make some noise this winter. Dozier was the three-year wrestling partner of Mario Guadron, last year’s state runner-up in the same weight class.
“Both (Valentine and Dozier) have the potential to place at state this year,” Fehr said.
Fehr also mentioned junior Manuel Garcia (195-220), as a Railroader who could make a push this year.
Outside of Valentine, Dozier and Garcia, the rest of the 10-wrestler Sparks squad is made up of freshmen and sophomores (four freshman, three sophomores).
“The team goal is to really lay down the foundation,” Fehr said. “We’re basically looking at a young team and working with them to get the basics in and get the core up as we go.”
Sparks opens its season Dec. 6-7 at the Chester Invitational.