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Led by a senior trio of Alexander Lovato, Gavin Laverde and Alister Castillo, the Millikan Rams are looking to get the proverbial monkey off their back when they return to the mat.
For three straight seasons, the Rams have made it to the doorstop of a CIF Southern Section title, but have come up short each time — the most recent a heartbreaking loss to South Torrance for the Division 4 title.
“We were the better team last year,” said Millikan head coach Blake Lovato. “Unfortunately it didn’t go our way due to injury and some slip ups. But, this year’s message has been to work harder.”
Although they didn’t win the CIF-SS title, Millikan won the overall team title with 292 points at the individual championships. In the Moore League finals, the Rams won 11 of the 14 individual titles.
After a year of being Co-Head Coach with longtime Rams coach Marshall Thompson, Lovato has officially taken over as the full-time head coach for the program.
“He’s still coming around and checking in,” Lovato said of Thompson. “So, we still get to pick his brain.”
Millikan expects junior Ryan Kaven to help guide the team to another Moore League title and deep playoff run. Kaven is also the reigning Moore League champion at 182 pounds.
At Lakewood, it’s a family affair as coach Randy Gonzalez recovers from back surgery. Coaching for the Lancers are his sons, Randy Jr. and his brother, Zack.
“Along with my family, I have some of my wrestlers that wrestled with my sons have come in,” Gonzalez said. “They’re coming back into it, so I got those guys coming in, which really has made it okay for me not to be in the room every day.”
Ryder Ritchson is expected to lead the team and will compete in the 170-pound weight class.
“He took second in the league and won a couple matches in CIF,” Gonzalez said. “He should be a CIF placer this year.”
Lakewood also expects Daniel Pelayo, Daniel Perez and Sergio Ramirez to lead the Lancers. Perez qualified for CIF last year. One underclassmen Lakewood expects to do well is Tyler Muk.
“He wrestled a little bit of varsity last year, but he didn’t make weight,” Gonzalez said of Muk. “So he ended up winning the JV Moore League title.”
At Long Beach Poly, Ken Lee has one of the youngest teams he’s had in recent years.
“I have more first-year wrestlers than I’ve ever had, which is really good,” Lee said. “But at the same time, a lot of these wrestlers need to make sure that they’re stepping up and they’re filling those shoes where they need to be.”
Junior Eduardo Sandoval is one of the Jackrabbits that Poly is expecting to make a leap. Sandoval competed in a national tournament that featured a bracket of 64 and competition from different states.
“He’s our captain,” Lee said. “He’s a CIF placer and he actually took second at Freakshow which is a really big tournament in Vegas.”
The Jackrabbits also expect senior Joseph Christensen to make an impact year after being a CIF placer and Masters qualifier last season.
Another CIF placer and Masters qualifier the Jackrabbits have returning is sophomore Nathan Itchon. Itchon took third place at the Halloween Open early this month at Cerritos College.
Head coach Seth Wegter and Wilson are ready to compete for a Moore League title with a few middleweights returning from last season.
Eden-Jay Khamnoy will be one of those returners who finished second last season in the Moore League finals.
“He’s super tough,” Wegter said. “He’s been putting in the time and had a good season last year.”
Along with Khamnoy, seniors Dominic Urbano and Ethan Campos are expected to provide a lift in the middleweights for the Bruins.
“We have a pretty dominant middleweight section,” Wegter said. “And we have a couple of really good lightweights, two that are coming up but we’re going to see how they do.”
While the Bruins will be young, Wegter is looking forward to what the team can do once the season starts and Moore League action gets started on Dec. 8.
Meanwhile, the Jordan and Compton wrestling teams will be back on the mat after not fielding a team last season.