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Denair wrestlers challenge each other in practice
Denair wrestlers pic1
Dylan Souza, left, and Nick LaFrancis are the two top wrestlers at Denair High, and both have aspirations to make a deep run in postseason tournaments. - photo by CHHUN SUN / The Journal

Two years ago, Nick LaFrancis achieved something rare for a Denair High wrestler. He qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Tournament, which is just one step from the elusive CIF State Championships in Bakersfield. Even if he didn’t win a medal or a single match, making it that far is an unforgettable experience.

LaFrancis can’t help but thank Dylan Souza for being that close.

This year, they’re considered the two best wrestlers on a small-school program, one that began to pick up momentum once again when Don Helnore took over four years ago. The coach confessed that LaFrancis and Souza were big reasons why he decided to take the job, even though the Coyotes, at the time, barely had enough wrestlers to field a basketball team. Helnore stuck around and look at what he’s got.

What’s more, those two wrestlers are also practice partners. They’ve contributed greatly to each others’ successes. LaFrancis is a former Masters wrestler and league champion, while Souza is a two-time divisional wrestler.

The two, along with their Denair teammates, will wrestle again Wednesday at 6:30 p.m., when they host Hughson High in a dual meet.

“Their level and skills are a lot better than most of the guys in the room,” Helnore said at a recent practice. “For them, they’re really the only two that can practice together, because they make each other work. If they wouldn’t have had each other to practice with every day, they might not have reached the level they are now.”

LaFrancis, whose ideal weight is 125 pounds, has aspirations to reach the state tournament. Souza, the school’s star running back who will drop from 152 to 145 this season, would be satisfied with qualifying for the Masters.

And they’d like to reach their goals by beating up on each other in practice.

“I think I have a pretty good chance” of qualifying for the state tournament, said LaFrancis, who has been wrestling for eight years, “if I keep working hard and keep myself in good shape. I’m trying to work hard every day.”

“I’m glad I have a partner with a lot of experience,” said Souza, who started wrestling after LaFrancis talked him into trying out for the sport during their freshmen year, “to teach me all the right moves, to teach me what to do right. He’s helped me out a lot more than if I came here by myself. A lot more.”

Last season, LaFrancis was unable to compete at Masters after qualifying for the divisional.

For Souza, he was one win from reaching the Masters. “Thinking back,” he said, “I could have gone a little harder in practice one day. The outcome could have been different.”

He has one last season to make the Masters cut, and he has the perfect workout partner to push him along.

To contact Chhun Sun, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2041.