Of all the Long Beach high school winter sports excited to be embarking on a full season again, wrestling is in the toughest spot. Or as Wilson coach Seth Wegter said, “It’s not like the kids can go to the park and wrestle with their friends.”
The large gap between the COVID-19 shutdowns, the short spring season and the inherent health risks of the indoor sport has adversely affected depth for most of the Moore League.
“This is one of the most difficult seasons in terms of coaching especially because of the new regulation and changes in the wrestling community,” Poly coach Kenneth Lee said. “Just finding tournaments with proper compliance within our district is one of the hardest things to do right now.”
Poly boys’ and girls’ teams opened the Moore League season with wins at Lakewood on Thursday. The Jackrabbits won 48-30 on the girls’ side, and 48-24 on the boys’ side.
The Rams boys’ and girls’ teams had fantastic spring seasons. The boys lost in the CIF Southern Section Division 4 championship and the girls lost in the Division 1 quarterfinals.
Millikan’s boys continued to dominate local competition with a 10th consecutive league championship, and legendary 31-year head coach Marshall Thompson has a stacked roster yet again.
Senior Kydyn Lima is the top returner and is ranked sixth in California. He will wrestle at 152 pounds and then probably 145 pounds in the postseason. Junior Gavin Laverde is also ranked at 120 pounds after he also won the league title last season.
“Both of them are hard to score on,” Thompson said of Lima and Laverde. “Guys can get them in a precarious position but they’re so skilled they have a way of countering it and getting out of it… They’re relentless with the way they wrestle, their attacking positions and how they put a lot of pressure on their opponents.”
Thompson said Samuel Winters (132 lbs.), Jake Pallares (160 lbs.), Ash Gomez (170 lbs) and Nathan Gomez (195 lbs.) will be key to team success. Seniors Diego Laverde (126 lbs.) and Seth Elliot (270 lbs.) are also back with the team after being unable to wrestle in the spring.
On the Millikan girls side, coach Blake Lovato is back after leading the Rams into the postseason without a full roster and program with 22 wrestlers.
“This year we’re probably about as strong,” Lovato said. “If everything falls in place and some of the girls rise up to the occasion.”
Seniors Tru Jones and Destiny Moreno are the top returning wrestlers after winning league championships last season. Jones is a team captain at 143 pounds.
“She really sets the example for a lot of girls and we’re looking for her to have a really good season,” Lovato said of Jones.
Moreno stayed competitive during the offseason with tournaments in Las Vegas, Colorado and Iowa.
Millikan’s first big league meet is on Thursday against Wilson.
The Bruins are embracing the challenge of putting the whole program back together with a few elite wrestlers and a host of new talent. Coach Seth Wegter said the spring season helped his returners.
“It was nice to have an outcome after all of their training,” he said. “There’s always a purpose to getting in shape but to have a little competition was a good way to keep the team together.”
Team captain Cordae Jones is back after winning the 220-pound league title in the spring and being named first team All-Moore League as a defensive lineman on the football team. He was ranked in the top 30 in California after he finished one round away from reaching the state tournament as a sophomore.
Wegter is also excited to see Dounchai Suos continue to develop at 160 or 170 pounds this season. Suos and Jones were some of the only Bruins who stayed committed to offseason workouts when the team wasn’t allowed to meet during the shutdowns.
On the girls’ side, the Bruins lost a ton of top senior talent to graduation and will depend on returning middleweight Estephanie Ibarra to lead the inexperienced group. Ibarra stands out because she understands the moves and is very aggressive.
“We have a very hungry group because they feel like last year could’ve been great,” Wegter said.
The Jackrabbits are also slowly building its roster back to peak form, and the win at Lakewood on Thursday is a great stepping stone.
“We have a very young and small team but we were able to go out there and wrestle our best matches,” Lee said. “Our freshman and sophomores came out and got some pretty big wins.”
Poly will rely on its senior leaders to set the tone. On the boys’ side that means Ethan Irizarry and Jeremy Lavery. Irizarry is a team captain and Lavery is hungry to return to postseason action after playing seventh at CIF before the COVID shutdowns.
On the girls’ side, returning league champions and seniors Arely Salguero and Eliana Eats are both team captains. Eats was a Masters qualifier last year and has already placed in big tournaments this year.
“We’re slowly building them and letting them know what we’re about,” Lee said. “A lot of these kids have never wrestled before, but you can see them getting better. It’s not focusing on the end result, it’s about focusing on what’s in front of them.”
The Lancers are also dealing with low numbers and inexperienced wrestlers this year.
On the boys’ side there’s only a few accomplished seniors on the roster with Eli Ocampo, Blake Bindman and junior Ryder Ritchson leading the way. Ocampo took fourth in the league his sophomore year and won a CIF match.
On the girls’ side, senior Zainab Hakeem and junior Saiheron Preciado-Meza are the top returners. Preciado-Meza was a 2020 league champion at 189 pounds, but plans on wrestling 170 this season. Hakeem was second at CIF in 2020 and will wrestle at 160.
The Panthers usually team up with Compton to take on league completion but this year they’ll be alone with Compton and Cabrillo opting out of the season.
The Moore League girls’ finals are Tuesday, Jan. 25 and the boys’ league finals are Saturday, Feb. 5.