The DI North and DI-A North Region wrestling tournaments start Friday. Sparks is hosting the DI-A tournament, the first time it’s hosted a regional meet in 12 years, while Spanish Springs and Reed will compete at Reno High. Both two-day meets start at 3 p.m. Friday and continue at 9 a.m. Saturday.
Spanish Springs Cougars
For coach Joe Imelli and the High Desert League champs, the weekend is not only about advancing wrestlers to the state tournament — the top three wrestlers in each weight class advance — but it is about defending their North title. Imelli realizes there is a danger that comes with the label of ‘team to beat’ – which the Cougars are.
Spanish Springs has won the North four out of the last five years.
“Yeah, I mean shoot, you sit up there long enough and teams do want to knock you off, but I think more than just knocking us off, they want to have the same mindset (as us) and wrestle their best tournament of the year,” Imelli said. “All those teams, I’m sure they’d love nothing more than to knock us off.”
Imelli spoke to the depth of the North this year and listed Carson, Damonte Ranch, McQueen and Reno as schools that could also win the North this year.
“This regional tournament, I think is really going to be a dog fight,” Imelli said.
Familiar with putting wrestlers into the regional tournament with realistic state berth aspirations, Imelli said he’s cut practice time down by half an hour since the beginning of the season. Practices are now more focused and precise. At this point in the season, Imelli said teaching new moves will be saved for next year.
“It’s not so much on the teaching as it is on perfecting stuff. At this time of the year, it’s going to be real hard to teach new stuff, so we just try to perfect what we do,” Imelli said. “You don’t have to be tense, you just have to be really practical with what you’re doing I guess. So we have a good concentration level, and instead of trying to burn kids out, we are trying to get them practicing what we do.”
Imelli said he would obviously love to see all his wrestlers advance to state, but realistically he said if seven Cougars finish in the top three of their class, it would be a successful tournament.
Spanish Springs' coach does not think complacency at the tournament will be an issue.
“We keep telling the kids, if we are happy just being where we are, we’re going to get caught,” Imelli said. “We have to have the mentality of ‘we still haven’t won a state title,’ so we’re still catching people too.”
First-year coach Mike Klapp would be lying if he said there weren’t some nerves heading into his first North tournament at Reed’s helm.
“Shoot, well I’m certainly nervous. One thing about wrestling, your records during the duals are important and all, but I think the measure of a successful season for a lot of these kids is whether they qualify for state and whether they’re successful there,” Klapp said.
“A few of my athletes who spent the offseason working really hard, have the expectation to get to state and it’s certainly my goal for them as well.
“I’ve been to high level competitions before but definitely not this one.”
Like Imelli at Spanish Springs, Klapp said it is too late in the season to teach new moves.
Now is the time to sharpen each wrestler's existing arsenal.
“We’re not really bringing any new technique in. We are focusing on honing in on the skills we already have and trying to prepare for our opponents.”
Klapp said he has not noticed an extra urgency at practice in preparation for the regional meet simply because a number of his wrestlers “bring that urgency everyday.” But for those who don’t, the significance of the final practices is becoming apparent.
Klapp named freshman Israel Casarez and junior Jake Otuafi as two of his wrestlers he expects to make an impact this weekend. Casarez (120) went undefeated in league duals this year and owns a 44-4 overall record. Otuafi owns a 35-8 overall record and fell to just two opponents in the North this year.
“I wish I could be like the NFL guys and say it’s just another game but it’s not. It’s certainly a big deal,” Klapp said. “If you don’t win, you’re out.
“I’m excited for the opportunity. The kids have done well and I think they’re prepared.”
For SHS coach Rick Fehr, this weekend is an opportunity to change the reputation of Sparks wrestling.
Fehr said there is a realistic opportunity for Sparks to send four wrestlers to the state tournament, led by seniors Tymon Dozier (152) and David Valentine (HW).
“I think we are excited. I don’t think anybody really looks at us, Sparks kind of has the reputation of ‘oh we have a Sparks guy, who’s the next guy we wrestle?’ That’s been the reputation for a few years … We’ve had one or two guys do well and qualify but I’m hoping we are going to add to that,” Fehr said. “I think if this group of kids gets four, that goal would really help us turn the corner on that reputation.
“It’s not about what other people think about us, but it is. Psychologically, when we show up, if people have a little bit of fear, a little bit of caution, it carries our team’s momentum a little bit further into their minds.”
Fehr said he maintained status quo in the week leading up to the tournament in practice.
“It’s normal. I don’t like to change it up too much,” Fehr said “My philosophy is we stay intense. We just have shorter practices. They’re not going to get into any more shape over the week.”
All year Fehr and his wrestlers have spent time addressing foreseen weaker areas in each wrestler’s game and addressing “specific” goals. That has not changed in the time leading up to the weekend’s tournament.
“We realize we are the underdogs but that takes a lot of pressure off. We definitely have a goal with that,” Fehr said. “They are focused on letting that be the achievement, just be present.”
Fehr said it is “an honor” to host the regional tournament this weekend and added Sparks has received plenty of support from the DI-A community. He also applauded the efforts of Sparks administration in the planning process, specifically SHS AD Rob Kittrell.