Fostering the future

E.V. Cain wrestling program thriving, feeding Placer High after a combined four wins in two seasons
By: Eric J. Gourley, Journal Sports Writer
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Five dozen wrestlers from E.V. Cain Middle School used practice time twice last month to watch Pioneer Valley League matches at Placer High. Many Wildcats left Earl Crabbe Gymnasium excited about what awaits them next winter. “The boys get a lot out of it,” said co-coach Don Packheiser. “We discussed what they’re doing differently. It was kind of like a minor league team going to the majors and watching how it’s really done. These kids were eating it up. They get to see what they’re working towards, and that gets all of these guys, even if they’re only on JV, working hard.” E.V. Cain will more than fulfill its role as a feeder for the Hillmen next season when it graduates 14 eighth graders to the high school program. “We are so integrated with Placer,” Packheiser said. “Coaches Omar and Jess Stiff basically say, ‘Hey, this is what we want these guys to know.’ We make sure they know it. We’re getting them ready for Placer.” Several veteran Wildcats sure looked ready during Monday’s 102-12 rout of visiting Glen Edwards, a win that improved E.V. Cain to 8-2 in the Foothill Intermediate Schools Athletic League and set up a potential showdown for the league crown at home against Antelope Crossing next Monday. “It’s been a really good season,” said eighth grade captain Mike Robinson, who pinned his opponent with ease in a 168-pound match. “We’re all just improving. We got beat at our first match this year and we saw the same team at a dual tournament and we destroyed them. We’re not at our plateau yet. We just keep rising.” Brendan Packheiser (116 pounds), Michael Valdez (122), Nathan Ralls (128), Casey Yunk (135) and Ryan Talley (185) added pins in Monday’s drubbing, a score similar to those the Wildcats have been on the other side of the last two years. While Placer capped a second straight perfect PVL season earlier this month, the success at E.V. Cain this winter comes on the heels of a three-win campaign. In 2006-07, the Wildcats won their lone match of the season only after Glen Edwards didn’t show up. Packheiser, an assistant during that agonizing season, took over the reins with co-coach Doug Yunk. An army of assistant coaches and steady support from school administration have helped transform the program. “I’ve got all these ex-E.V. Cain stud wrestlers coming and volunteering their time to help out,” Packheiser said. “I’ve got help from the teachers. They’re calling me all the time letting me know what these boys are up to, so I take care of it in practice. I don’t have any boys in trouble with citizenship or grades — none. I have not lost one guy.” The discipline has proved contagious for grapplers like Jake Lewis, an eighth grade standout at 205 pounds. “They just train, train, train and exercise us as much as they can to get us in top shape for now and to get us prepared for next year wrestling all the big schools,” Lewis said. “It’s just over-the-top, as hard as you can go for two hours every night. They teach us some pretty tricky moves to pin people.” Lewis and Robinson have both qualified for the 41st Annual Northern California Tournament of Champions March 14 at Del Oro High. The Wildcats figure to qualify more wrestlers next weekend at a regional tournament in Elk Grove. Individuals can also advance to the freestyle state championships in San Jose in June. “We’ll probably get a bunch of guys to freestyles,” Robinson said.