Vikings pin future on influx of enthusiam
Even though South Tahoe’s wrestlers begin their season on the mats Saturday, the team already has won some of its toughest battles in recent memory.
Fans usually discuss depth in terms of the number of athletes on a team, but the word means more to Tahoe’s growing wrestling program. It doesn’t refer just to having enough athletes on the benches, but being able to bridge the program’s gaps.
“It’s putting us more and more in a situation where we might be able to pick up some matches just because we have our classes filled,” said Tom Barnes, South Tahoe’s fourth-year head wrestling coach.
The Vikings wrestling program is growing, but not just in the number of athletes who decided to come out and wrestle this season. Despite finishing 0-9-1 in duels last season, South Tahoe managed to tie rival Douglas, and contend in a match for Reed despite giving up several points off the bat each match for leaving weight classes open. The Vikings also qualified their first wrestler for state in recent memory, sending sophomore Cavin Ross to Elko.
“That single success comes from years of being together and hashing things out,” said assistant coach Dennis Romero, who is helping build the infrastructure South Tahoe’s program needs by coaching at South Tahoe Middle School.
“We’ve started from a freshman group, and now they’re seniors, so the young thing is starting to get to a mature thing,” Romero said.
Since Barnes started with the program four years ago, and Romero joined him three years ago, the infrastructure that makes a successful program has improved. Now South Tahoe has its own wrestling room and a designated practice time. The team doesn’t have an athlete penciled into the superheavyweight class, but finally appears capable of filling the others.
“We have a lot more back than last year,” said Ross, a junior who competes in the 119-pound class. “That makes me really happy. I love having a lot of guys out here. We have a lot of new guys, and they’re going to learn a lot of stuff. Lots of them have natural capabilities.”
Teammate Rook Naccarato, a 140-pounder and the only senior on South Tahoe’s roster, agreed:
“It’s really good to be able to fill the weight classes, because we’ve never been able to do that before,” he said. “We’re still missing a few of the heavier weight classes, but this is more than we’ve ever had. It’s just a lot more confidence-building, it’s easier to win tournaments and not have to lose them all because of lack of effort.”
Naccarato and Ross lead a growing list of veterans for South Tahoe. Ross and Justin Nixon (199 pounds), who returns to the team after not competing last year, both wrestled in national tournaments over the summer, and return to South Tahoe’s team.
“Little tournaments like these tournaments you wrestle in right now, like the tournament we’re headed to at Hug this weekend, (are) going to be easy tournaments, because we’ve been to the hard tournaments,” Ross said. “Justin Nixon and I have been to nationals and done very well. That prepares you. The higher you go, the easier it is for you to go to lower matches.”
They join Naccarato’s brother, Derek (125 pounds) and Ross’s brother, Brad (130 pounds) as returning varsity wrestlers, along with heavyweight Nick Alexander, who has impressed Romero with his work ethic if not his size.
“He’s got the heart of a heavyweight, not quite the size,” Romero said.
The coaches also tabbed 160-pounder Scott Moreno as a hard-working veteran for South Tahoe.
“There are some returning varsity wrestlers who are showing some promise,” Barnes said.
Add to the mix two freshmen – Danny Lucero, filling in the starting spot in the 103-pound class, and Brian Burns, in the 135 – who excelled in middle school, and a number of other newcomers, and South Tahoe is finally starting to build the kind of depth that’s more familiar to sports fans.
“They’re showing a lot of heart,” Rook Naccarato said of the newcomers. “Most of the time, they just all quit, but this group has stuck with it so far.”
That may not mean instant results in terms of a slew of wins. But it’s definite progress for a program that has needed stability.
“We have a young club, we have a lot of new wrestlers out, and yes, we’re really charged up and have enthusiasm,” Barnes said. “But realistically, there are a lot of clubs and a lot of high-school programs that have a lot more going for them in terms of facilities and money and depth.
“We’re really encouraged by having this room and a consistent space and time to schedule our practices,” Barnes said.
So now South Tahoe is working on actual wrestling. The new sense of stability in practice has helped.
“I’m starting to get a little more confident with these practices, starting to remember my moves a little more,” Naccarato said.
Naccarato has targeted a trip to state, and Ross a return. But South Tahoe still has a season on the mats between now and the Feb. 18-19 state tournament. The team has made it over one of its offseason humps. Now they’re concentrating on the business at hand on the mats.
“We’re really tickled, thrilled, we have kids who are enthusiastic, having fun out here wrestling,” Barnes said. “We will look at success on an incremental basis.”
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