2013 should be good, but 2014 could be great.
Oakdale’s rising wrestling program needs a good finish this year to have a potentially great finish next year, when a youthful, experienced varsity squad gets additional help from incoming underclassmen.
“All the hard work that’s been that last 10 and 15 years with Brian Stevens and Dan Casey,” Mustang wrestling coach Steve Strange said. “We’re just building off that – and we’re trying to take it to next level and keep getting better.”
Oakdale, which is going for a fifth straight Sac-Joaquin Section dual meet championship and won eight straight VOL and sub-section titles under Stevens, returns seven out of 14 Masters qualifiers, three CIF state meet participants and one medalist mixed in with two impact freshmen and adding football starters Wyatt Hjelm and Tanner Morgan to the upper weights.
“Our goal as a program is to climb into the top ten in the state this year,” Strange said. “We can set the bar high.”
The bar can be set high, he said, because they have a solid group of scholars and athletes ready to hit the mats.
Strange is his third year in the program but his first as head coach, and feels great about the foundation he inherited and sees nothing but positive momentum going forward.
“They’ve made me feel at home, showed me a ton of respect,” Strange said of his predecessors. “I’ve had a great time coaching with them, they’re great coaches and we worked as a unit.”
After winning two state titles out of Hughson High and being a three-time NCAA qualifier at Cal Poly, Strange was named California Coach of the Year in 2008, after leading Central Catholic to a third-place finish at state. Adding to his coaching staff, he now has Cody Vasconcellas, a former JC state champ from Sac City and Dominic Galas, a four-year scholarship football player at Cal, who joins the Mustangs staff just as their season gets rolling by hosting a Pitman dual on Dec. 6 and the Riddle Tournament on Dec. 7.
Oakdale should once again clean up in the Valley Oak League and Sub-Section meets, but how it fares in the Sac Joaquin Section against local standouts from Modesto High and nearby Turlock and Merced, along with competitors from Vacaville and Folsom, will be crucial in determining how soon they become one of California’s top ten wrestling teams.
After Pitman and the Riddle, Los Banos will be the final tune-up before hitting the Sierra Nevada Classic in late December, then the Doc Buchanan Invitational and Temecula Valley Tournament in January. On Jan 25 and 26, the Mustangs travel to the Tim Brown Invitational, closing out their preseason with a dual at home against powerhouse Gilroy on Jan. 31.
PROJECTED STARTING LINE UP
Cody Williams (9); 106 pounds
Williams is ranked 19th in state, is one of Oakdale’s top impact freshman in the varsity lineup with Abel Garcia. Williams, the younger brother of Trevor, but no stranger to freestyle wrestling circuit, is long, lean, with good quickness and technique on his takedowns and figures to fill out well as he grows in the program. Like older brother, competitive, willing to scrap and find a way to win. Youngest and lightest on the team stacked at lightweights, his practice battles alone will prepare him for top-flight varsity schedule.
Logan Eaton (11); 113
Finished 30-6 last year, taking fourth at Sierra Nevada Classic, first at Riddle, first Los Banos, second Escalon tournaments. Eaton enters the season with the biggest chip on his shoulder after being ranked in the section, defeating four state qualifiers and not making the postseason lineup after being bumped out by his neighbor and Oakdale’s only returning state medalist, Nico Colunga. Coaches expecting big season from rising junior. Aggression and fearlessness is key for honors student with A.P. course load if he wants to crack the state’s top eight.
Nico Colunga (11); 120
Finished eighth in CIF, third in SJS last year. No one has to motivate Colunga, Oakdale’s only medalist last season, who enters his junior campaign ranked fourth in California behind seniors #3 Danny Ruiz of Madera, #2 Roy Galvan of La Quinta and last year’s state champion #1 Israel Saavedra of Modesto High. Colunga needs to close out big semi-final and championship matches this year to continue climb up the ladder.
Trevor Williams (10); 120
CIF state qualifier, seventh at Masters and comes in ranked #22 in the state, Williams comes in as one of team’s top talents after seizing opportunity and starting spot mid-season last year, eventually qualifying for state by knocking off a senior in a gritty, second day performance at Masters to place seventh and finish the year 1-2 at state. Steps up in big matches, has the attitude to win big for the Mustangs this year and beyond. The key word for Williams is commitment, as he might just be Oakdale’s grittiest wrestler and if prepared will find ways to pull out wins.
Max Stevens (11); 132
One of Oakdale’s top shots for a state medal, Stevens comes into his junior season ranked #19 in the state after a fifth place SJS Masters finish and 1-2 record at state. Tough, explosive, Stevens has the talent to climb to next level. Quarter and semi-final rounds at the Doc Buchanan, Sierra Nevada and Temecula Valley tournaments will be a barometer of the junior’s off-season improvement.
Justin Jacobson (10); 138
Masters qualifier who had strong opening and closing finish of 2012-13 year, but lapses in between. Defeated brother Joey to place at James Riddle last year, but missed Elk Grove duals and split time at 135. Stepped up to varsity spot late in year, placed at VOL’s and had strong sub-section tournament winning two close matches on pressure-filled elimination bracket. Mental toughness and willingness to compete against older and heavier practice partners will determine fate.
Eric Amador (10); 145
Amador, who took a season’s worth of lumps last year after seeing matches as a freshman against more seasoned competitors, returns for his sophomore campaign.
Abel Garcia (9); 152
Garcia will not be a wide-eyed freshman nor worried about his spot on the varsity lineup. A wrestler-built 152-pound freshman is here for a four-year run as a Mustang and out for surely one of the best seasons of a freshman on campus. Garcia need more offensive attacks and had knee injuries that required downtime in the past seasons, but handled state-ranked Escalon senior Tyler Lawrence this off-season. Ranked #31 in the state.
Tanner Reeves (12); 170
Comes into season ranked #27 in state after making it to second day of Masters last year. Long-armed, physically awkward match-up for most opponents, Reeves traveled to Stanford and Menlo College wrestling camps this summer and continues to surprise Mustang coaches with his development. Has to remain injury-free and create more mobility and better mat awareness in later stages of bouts.
Frankie Trent (11); 170
Started sport late, needs to also develop flexibility and mat awareness, but has tremendous upside and enters pivotal junior year ranked #30 in state after 2-2 Masters finish. Needs to go from standard movements and set-ups, mixing speed, fakes, power and offensive chances in practice in order to get rid of stress during live competition. Ownership of all-out attack and tweaking the mistakes is key for Trent to break through as college prospect.
Bailey Dryden (12); 195
Valley Oak League champion 2012, Masters qualifier and honorable mention for state ranking after bowing out 1-2 at Masters last year, Dryden is strong, athletic and coming off a hard-nosed football season where he played his best in playoff wins at Patterson and loss to Sacramento. He could make the biggest jump of any wrestler on the roster as he takes his linebacker attitude onto the wrestling mat. With improved technique, practice focus and willingness to mix it up and learn while taking lumps from assistant coaches, Dryden could be a different wrestler by end of season.
Miguel Ibarra (11); 220
One of Oakdale’s most determined wrestlers, Ibarra has not missed a practice this off-season. Ibarra figures to compete in the 220 class. The junior has been working hard and is looking to break in to the varsity line up with some authority this season.