If the Cougars are to return to the throne, they will do it with many returning wrestlers who tasted that bitter defeat and a couple others who had to watch from the sidelines with injuries. Eight seniors are currently projected as No. 1 wrestlers for the Cougs in the 14 weight classes.
“We’re in a situation where we have a lot of seniors and a good mix of underclassmen,” SSHS wrestling coach Joe Imelli said. “I was kind of worried about our freshmen coming in, but after we did our challenges, I think we have a pretty tough group that will fill in nice as those seniors depart.
“I think it will be a really nice room between the seniors showing them how to do it and the freshmen wanting to. It’s a good little mix going. They know what’s expected of them every year. I’ve had all these kids in weights class throughout the end of last year and this semester. I think for the most part, the seniors understand not only is this their last chance, but also there should be some redemption for last year. They felt a little cheated, not getting to finish what they wanted to. There’s a good work ethic in the room.”
The only weight class in which Spanish Springs doesn’t return a wrestler is at 106 pounds.
Spanish Springs lost last year’s regional crown by 3.5 points, despite having six wrestlers reach the championship and four win their weight classes. The Cougars also qualified 10 kids for state, but that didn’t translate into great success, finishing behind Reed in the standings even though the Raiders only brought four wrestlers to state.
Although Spanish Springs had 10 wrestlers finish in the Top 3 at regionals, none of them came in the four heaviest weight classes, and that proved to be the difference.
Imelli hopes the return of a healthy Tyler Beaulac and Nikk Audenried will help shore up the heavyweights. At 220 pounds, Anthony Walsh separated his shoulder at the Sierra Nevada Classic, so Conrad Tanyi filled in, but his wrestling experience was minimal. Chase Hauder was the only Cougar to place in the final four weights, taking fourth at 285 pounds. He will also be back.
“Chase was probably the one kid who let it sit with him the most because Chase had a true opportunity to go to state,” Imelli said. “He has beaten that kid from Carson. I know he is looking for a little redemption. I feel real strongly that when we bring Tyler back, Brik (Chesley) comes back, Nikk comes back, Walsh and Hauder, barring injuries we should have a very solid upper weights. Those middle weights seemed to be pretty stacked for us, too.”
Spanish Springs should have plenty of competition this winter. Its rivals from the Rail City have high hopes for challenging the Purple and Silver for High Desert League supremacy.
“We have a lot of talented guys. I think as a collective unit, we will be able to win a lot of duals and score a lot of wrestle-back points at regionals. I feel like most of my guys can be competitive this year. It‘s very exciting,” Reed wrestling coach Dan Barraza said.
The big story coming out of the east Sparks school this season is whether or not Spencer Empey will remain undefeated in prep wrestling for a third straight year. He currently is riding a 94-match winning streak after going 50-0 as a sophomore and 44-0 last year en route to back-to-back state championships. Empey is one win away from tying the Nevada state record for most consecutive wins.
The scary part is Barraza said Empey’s technique has improved and he has filled out more physically. Empey also chose not to play football this year so he could focus on wrestling. But it’s the mental aspect that will keep Empey’s record unblemished in his senior year.
“We just make sure he stays on his toes,” Barraza said. “We just have to remind him that any throw can be a loss no matter who the opponent is. He just goes out and wrestles the same way every single time.”
Reed lost its other two-time state champion, Broc Westlake, to graduation last year. However, the Raiders return Jake Otuafi, who went to state as a freshman at 120 pounds and has put in a lot of work in the offseason, according to Barraza.
Barraza likes his lightweights this year as a group. Reed also has senior Gavin Chickering, who narrowly missed out on his second straight trip to state a year ago.
•In his third year coaching at his alma mater, veteran coach Ric Fehr finally sees building blocks forming in the program.
Sparks only had six wrestlers compete at regionals last winter. Four qualified for state and three of them return to the squad, looking to build on that success. But the Railroaders’ wrestling roster is currently 16 wrestlers deep, thanks to the recruiting efforts of Fehr’s assistant coach, who also assisted with the football program. Fehr also worked with the administration to help encourage the kids.
“It’s phenomenal. We’re still not done the body fat assessment, so we don’t know if we will be able to fill all the weights, but it’s a lot better than last year,” Fehr said. “We’re definitely a real young team. We have a lot of freshmen and sophomores. We work really well with a small team, but we believe the freshmen and sophomores coming in will be our building blocks. They’ve shown a lot of heart and commitment through the first couple weeks of practice here.”
Of the three state qualifiers who return, Mario Guadron enjoyed the most success, taking second at both the regional and state meet.
Luis Aguilar and David Valentine, who qualified at 138 pounds and at heavyweight respectively are the other two state-qualifying returners. Junior Tymon Dozier made it to state as a freshman at 119 pounds, but placed seventh at 132 pounds last year at regionals. He also brings experience to the team.