“The fact that we put our emphasis on wrestling our best at this time of the year and we talk about it throughout the entire year, it’s in the kids’ heads,” Imelli said. “It has to be our best tournament of the year. They know what we’re pushing for. As we wrestle this weekend, we should see our kids wrestle their best tournament. The kids are ready. Practices this week have been nice and short and intense.”
After winning its sixth straight High Desert League crown, the Purple and Silver will be looking for a number of its wrestlers to lead the charge to a fourth regional title in five years.
Spanish Springs’ 113-pounder Ryan Long is a returning regional champ, as is Blake Nauman (145), who was a victory away from becoming a state champion.. Tyler Poalillo (120) also reached state last year, as did Zach Perez (152), and Brik Chesley (195). The Cougars will looking to that experience and the performance of their other top wrestlers such as 182-pounder Tyler Beaulac and heavyweight Chase Hauder to regain its D-I North throne.
“We’ve got a pretty good, strong group,” Imelli said. “We have a lot of kids who have been here before and know what it takes. We also have a lot of kids who are hungry coming off of last year. So we have a good group of kids that I think can pull through.”
In order for those individual wrestlers to pull through and get Spanish Springs back to where it wants to be, Imelli said the Cougars cannot have any regrets about their regional performances.
We have to show up and wrestle,” he said. “You can’t have one of those weekends where you say ‘I could’ve, should’ve, would’ve.’ You have to say ‘I did. I wrestled well and I got after it.’ The kids just have to have those high expectations. We have to get the pins when we can. Those bonus points really help. And then we have to make sure that kids are placing.”
Another Rail City squad that will be looking to make some noise at regionals will be Reed.
“Every year we’re want to be one of the top schools, so we’re looking to stay in that top 3 like we’ve been the last few years,” Reed coach Dan Barraza said. “I certainly feel like we can get more guys into state this year than we have in the past. As an overall team, we may not have that superstar power from every weight, but with the guys that I have I think every single one of them can fight for a third spot or a chance to make the finals.”
A year ago, the Raiders had three wrestlers take regional titles, but two of those champions graduated in the spring. Now in order for the Blue and Gold to take its place on the podium, Barraza said it will need strong outings from Raiders that have done it all season long, led by two-time state champion Spencer Empey.
“Starting at the bottom, I think our lightweights are the spearhead of our team,” he said. “Guys like Chase Heit, Austin Martinez, Gavin Heit, Jake Otuafi. Those are guys I expect to score a lot of points for us. Plus Spencer Empey up at the top and my heavyweight Damon Gebhardt. I feel like I have a lot of guys that can win matches.
“To win matches we need, we have to be able to grind out one-point matches. Whether it’s in the consolation rounds or the semifinals, we have to be able to wrestle six minutes and be happy with a one-point win. We have to wrestle smart in that aspect and go in with a good strategy so we can come up big when it matters.”
In the Division I-A North, Sparks may not be competing for a team championship at regionals, but the Railroaders are looking to place a handful of wrestlers into state.
“As far as a team goes, we only have nine athletes, so we don’t really have a team competitive concept,” Sparks coach Ric Fehr said. “Individually, I think we have the possibility of getting three athletes into the state tournament. For the team though, the goal really is for the younger wrestlers to apply some of the basic technique and accomplish some personal goals. For the upperclassmen, we’re looking at most of them qualifying for state.”
Three of the Maroon and Gold upperclassmen that Fehr is counting on include Mario Guadron (145), Cody Brieg (195) and David Valentine (285). Guadron will lead the way, coming off last year’s performance that saw him grab second place at both regionals and state. Valentine also has championship tournament experience, having advanced to state a year ago. Fehr said for the Railroaders to reach their potential, they will have to improve upon little things at regionals.
“One of the things that we need to do is be better on our feet in regard to takedowns” he said. “I feel comfortable about our mat wrestling, but we need to be stronger on our feet if we’re going to get past the higher class of athletes. So we need to get takedowns and defend takedowns a lot better.”