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Grappling with success

Led by top-ranked Stafford, Eagles shoot for fourth straight SFL title, and more
By: Ray Hacke Journal Sports Writer
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LOOMIS — Knowing that 2009-10 would be a rebuilding year for Del Oro High’s wrestling squad, co-coaches Dave Sanchez and Clint Madden laid the foundation in advance. The Golden Eagles lost nine seniors from last year’s team to graduation. Del Oro also lost 103-pounder Carlos Gamino, who transferred to the California School for the Deaf in Fremont. Faced with having to replace 10 wrestlers from a team that won the Sierra Foothill League title for the third straight year and was the Sac-Joaquin Section’s Division II runner-up for the fifth straight season, Sanchez and Madden did what they could to get their up-and-coming wrestlers some varsity experience in advance. “We could see this coming, so we took a lot of our second-string wrestlers to varsity tournaments to get them ready to be competitive,” Madden said. What Sanchez and Madden now have is a group that is not only prepared for varsity competition, but willing to put in the work to get the section title that has eluded the Golden Eagles after 12 SFL championships and nine section runner-up finishes in the past 16 years. “On (the day after Christmas) the guys found out there wasn’t going to be any practice,” Sanchez said. “The guys decided they wanted to practice. When guys want to work that hard, good things are going to happen.” Leading Del Oro’s returnees is senior Jesse Stafford, who is currently California’s top-ranked wrestler at 152 pounds. Stafford placed fourth at 140 at last year’s state tournament and epitomizes the work ethic that Sanchez believes will help the Eagles continue their streak of SFL titles. “Being ranked No. 1 is nice and all, but it’s not the same as placing No. 1 at the end of the season, and he knows that,” Sanchez said. “He knows he’s got a lot of work to do to get that state title. There are going to be a lot of ups and downs, and he’s got to stay focused on the end.” Stafford is 12-2 this season and has already faced – and beaten – some of the best competition California and other states have to offer. One of his only losses came against a two-time state champion from Idaho in the finals of the two-day Sierra Nevada Classic on Wednesday. That wrestler was ranked No. 3 in the nation, according to Madden. “That’s the kind of experience I need to get ready and prepare myself (for a run at a state title),” Stafford said. Also returning for Del Oro are senior 140-pounder Dylan Blomgren, who joins Stafford as one of the team’s two captains this season, and junior Kevin Burrage, who placed eighth in the section at 145 pounds last season and will wrestle in the same weight class this winter. Sophomore Austin Branum, who is wrestling at 135 pounds this season, was among the Golden Eagles’ top five in wins as a 119-pounder last year. Branum displayed his toughness at the Zinkin Classic, wrestling in five matches a day after getting stitches in an eye he gashed open in his first match and placing third in his weight class. Junior 160-pounder Foster Fretland won 20 varsity matches last season. Senior 171-pounder Eddie Love has been involved in the Golden Eagles’ program since he was much younger but has battled injuries at the high school level. Dillon Petretti, the SFL’s 125-pound champion last year, is competing for the starting job at 130 this season with fellow junior Mark Burriesci. Three wrestlers are battling for the starting spot at 189 pounds. Seniors Nathan Inchaurregui and Matt Sinclair and junior Jake Uhler are all vying for the spot left open when senior Tyler Alexander hurt his knee in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II football championship game against Rocklin. “He tore his ACL, and he’s out for the year,” Sanchez said of Alexander. “It was heartbreaking. He spent all summer putting in the work he needed to do. He was in a position to do real well for us before he got that injury. A pair of freshmen are wrestling in the lowest weight classes. Johnny Zieour, at 103 pounds, went 3-1 in his first varsity tournament, while Brendan Montoya, at 112, went 2-2. Twin juniors Danny and Jimmy Jackoshenk are slated to start at 119 and 125 pounds, respectively. In the upper weight classes are seniors Shane Plummer at 215 pounds and Austin Harbert in the heavyweight division. Expectations at Del Oro are as high as always, but Madden believes his wrestlers are up to the challenge of keeping the Eagles’ run of success alive. “As far as our competition, this should be one of the toughest years we’ve had,” the co-coach said. “Granite Bay, Woodcreek and Nevada Union all have probably the strongest teams they’ve had in the last few years. “But we’ve got a great group of kids with great attitudes. If they keep working hard, I think we can do it.”