The Southern Athletic League is a smaller, yet very competitive league when it comes to wrestling and this year, with Denair and Delhi High returning a large portion of their key athletes, things look to be on the upswing for the Coyotes and Hawks on the mat.
Despite a losing record last season in the SAL, both Delhi and Denair managed to send a handful of wrestlers to the divisional tournaments. Unfortunately for Denair nobody was able to make it past this round after a few upsets while Delhi sent one further into the competition.
Jesse Flores, who wrestles in the heavyweight-class, is back for his second year as a sophomore after making the masters tournament as a freshman representative for the Hawks.
“We had six kids make divisionals last year for us so that was very impressive and that was our goal to get everyone to go to divisionals,” said Delhi head coach Ray Cedres. “Obviously Jesse made it in his first year so the kids did more than what I expected.”
After filling up the roster list to only 10 last year, the addition of two wrestlers, including a transfer from Livingston has made this team the biggest that Cedres has ever coached at Delhi.
Out of the dozen wrestlers who will compete at the varsity level, only one is a senior as they make up one of the youngest and inexperienced teams, not just in the league but also in the entire region.
“Our kids impressed me a lot with their work ethic. They put in a lot of work last year and it showed,” Cedres said. “It seems like we have a wrestling program now, and I am very happy about that and with the core of guys being leaders.”
Rousel Samuel is the lone senior at the 176-weight-class while sophomore Samuel Cortez should be a key asset at the 138-pound class for Cedres.
Cortez injured his shoulder in the league championships, which automatically took him out of divisional contention, so he will be returning with a hunger to get back to the top rounds.
Sophomore Scorpio Castorena (148) will be returning as well after a solid freshman campaign while Livingston transfer Braulio Gamino will be competing at the 167-pound class.
“Our sophomores who knew nothing last year are excited and happy and we are looking good,” said Cedres. “We have a core of guys that want to work, so the nine from last year that return just come in and do work and push the others to work and learn.”
Heading into the new year, expectations are definitely up there for Delhi and coach Cedres.
“Still being a small team, our goals are simple and achievable. We set goals that we can achieve like our guys making divisionals and moving on from there,” he said. “That has been our goal all season, show up and do the work and get to divisionals.”
Denair comes in as the most experienced of the two teams especially after placing third in the SAL with a 3-3 record and returning five seniors.
The five seniors consist of Richard Richards (145), Samuel Davison (170), Saul Mendoza (182), Luis Mendoza (220) and Trevor Colvin (126).
Indiana Olave is a junior and should compete at the 132-weight-class after a more than impressive sophomore year.
“I thought we didn't quite meet our expectations last year,” said Denair head coach Don Helnore. “I think we had some good guys but the other teams like Waterford and Mariposa seemed like they had better kids come in from their Junior High programs than we thought they would and that kept us from getting what we were trying to accomplish.”
Helnore said every one of his kids know what they need to do.
“In past years I have sort of put a lot of expectations, but this year I am not,” Helnore said. “I am just kind of seeing where we go really and not trying to put too much on the kids and if it goes well then we will be excited and if not then we won't be too disappointed. We are taking a different approach.”
With the different approach the senior leadership roles have taken a bigger step overall.
“The seniors know what they want to accomplish this year and I have not put a lot of pressure on them to do that,” Helnore said. “They know it’s their last season and they know what they want to do. I think they have big ambitions to try and do a lot this year as seniors.”
“My focus is on the team but I feel like I owe those guys to stick with the program and I feel like I owe them a chance and it should trickle down to the rest of the year. I told the kids it’s their team and they know what to do.”