The Yosemite High Badgers wrestling team kicked off the 2014-15 season with a lopsided 63-18 defeat against the formidable Mariposa Grizzlies.
The evening’s match began Wednesday, Dec. 10 in front of a larger than normal Mariposa crowd as the Badgers jumped out to an early 12-0 lead behind two quick pins by senior Quinn Hilliard and freshman Jesse de la Cruz.
However the Grizzlies, winners of the 2012-13 D-IV section title, quickly responded putting up 15 unanswered points with two pins and a 5-4 decision in what would be the night’s closest and most competitive match between Yosemite’s Matt Springer and Mariposa’s Seymour.
Prior to forfeits, Mariposa led Yosemite 33-18 with all 18 Badger points coming from pins.
Keeping with the declining trend for most local sports the YHS wrestling program continued to deal with a dramatic reduction in participation forfeiting 30 points to Mariposa.
The Badgers currently have nine varsity wrestlers - five short of a full roster - and will use this year to focus on individual goals and tournaments while trying to overcome to adversities of an incomplete roster during their head-to-head matches.
What’s so unique about the Badgers predicament is unlike most wrestling teams short on athletes the Badger’s lack smaller sized athletes giving up forfeits at the 106, 113, 126, 132, and 138 weights.
Despite being out manned the Badgers showed significant growth and maturity behind the leadership of senior Quinn Hilliard (145-pounds), who placed second in the North Sequoia League in 2013-14.
Coach Kent Lincoln said there are two or three possible NSL champions amongst the group and said he is looking forward to the future of Badger wrestling based on what he sees and the skills of a few young and talented prospects.
“We have a good looking freshman and sophomore group with Holden and Bowen Cunnings as sophomores and Peter Martinez and Jesse de la Cruz as freshman. It’s still a small group of 11 wrestlers but we are excited about the potential,” Lincoln said.
In an attempt to shake things up, Lincoln hired two new assistant coaches with significant wrestling backgrounds and reputations for hard work.
Assistant coaches P.J. Reyna and Kyle Lincoln are 2012 and 2013 YHS graduates respectively and hope to bring a much needed change of pace to the program.
Since graduating from high school Reyna has gone on to try his hand in the world of mixed martial arts spending his days training at Dethrone Basecamp in Fresno. Reyna has competed in more than 20 MMA fights including trips to Las Vegas and the Bay Area.
From his experience Reyna understands the importance behind conditioning and treating each match like a professional. Reyna hopes to bring a new set of skills and conditioning to the table.
“I’m really excited about [coaching]. I have coached youth wrestling all through my high school years but this is especially nice because they are closer to my age so we can relate,” Reyna said. “They understand where I am coming from and a lot of them saw me wrestle in high school before so it’s nice to be able to teach my passion to them and share my knowledge.”
Kyle Lincoln, coach Lincoln’s son, brings an intensity matched only by Reyna and the two hope to get the organization back on the track. Both coaches have had prior experience coaching the Yosemite Youth Wrestling leagues and hope to have a immediate impact on the quality of wrestlers produced by YHS.
Reyna said the team has the heart and passion that is necessary for success in such a physically demanding sport.
“The easiest part about coaching a high school team is that they want it just as bad as we do. We don’t have to push them that much, they work hard on their own and they don’t talk back,” Reyna said. “Even when we are losing one things for sure...they won’t quite.”
Over the weekend the team traveled down to Madera South to participate in the Chukchansi Invitational. The tournament consisted of 46 teams from around the valley and Yosemite finished with 8 points, good enough for 43 out of 46 teams.
While others are at home enjoying the new year the Badgers will look to turn things around on Dec. 29 and Dec. 30 during the ‘Lemoore Bash’ known to many as one of the most difficult and prestigious tournaments in the Central Valley.
The Badgers next head-to-head match will be Thursday, Jan. 15, at home against the Kerman Lions.