Hillmen pinning strategy on basics

New coach worked with many of Placer’s wrestlers at E.V.?Cain
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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Don Packheiser doesn’t have a complex, secret formula for success as he takes the reins of the Placer High wrestling program. The veteran coach, who helped build E.V. Cain Middle School into an area power, is using an old-school approach with the Hillmen. “I’m a back-to-basics kind of guy,” Packheiser said. “I’m kind of a throwback. I believe in getting them in great condition and giving them the basic skills to compete.” Placer has competed well in the Pioneer Valley League over the past five seasons. Lincoln knocked off the Hillmen last season to end Placer’s three-year run atop the league. But a young crop of talent has Packheiser hopeful his team can get back to the top. Among the standouts are Michael Valdez and Gama Gomez. Valdez is a tough 138-pound junior and Gomez is a stellar four-sport athlete that is rapidly improving after getting into wrestling just last year. Brothers Mason and Myles Lenover are outstanding in the middle weights. Mason broke his collarbone and missed most of his sophomore season, but he’s back and stronger than he’s ever been. The 170-pounder placed fourth at the Marty Magnes Invitational at Casa Roble last month. Another set of brothers are strong in the lightweights. Junior Justin Mason has wrestled well at 126 pounds. Freshman Josh Mason is improving at 120. Junior Ryan Talley finished fourth at the Marty Magnes at 220 pounds. Freshman Will Thornton, the younger brother of former Placer star Joe Thornton, is living up to his family name at 152. Junior Brendan Packheiser, the coach’s son, is solid at 160. Juniors Michael Robinson and Tony Suverkropp are both football standouts and will contribute heavily to Placer’s wrestling success. Robinson is currently in the 195-pound slot and Suverkropp is at 182. Brandon Rinaldo and Jake Limon are the lone seniors in the lineup. Rinaldo, a two-year starter on Placer’s offensive line in football, wrestles at 170 or 182. Limon is a 145-pounder. Sophomore Luis Medina fills the heavyweight spot for Placer. After experiencing a flood of new wrestlers in recent years, Placer, like some other programs in the area, hit a drought cycle this winter. Packheiser said there are 30 wrestlers on the roster — down from 49 one year ago. “We’ve had some attrition,” Packheiser said. “Wrestling is not an easy sport. I had some kids come out at the beginning and after a few days they said, ‘Coach, I can’t do this.’ They have calculus, things going on with school and it’s a big commitment.” Packheiser said he’s been involved with wrestling since he began competing in sixth grade. He works as a self-employed information technology professional, or “computer nerd” as he put it. He coached up many of Placer’s current wrestlers at E.V. Cain. Packheiser’s passion for the sport rubbed off on them. “He’s a great coach,” Mason Lenover said. “He’ll do anything for you. He’ll come open up the gym for you on the weekends, he’ll work for hours after practice with you.” Placer is eager to return to the top of the PVL, but it won’t be easy. Lincoln and Foothill will be tough and Bear RIver could be a darkhorse. Former Placer coach Jess Stiff is now a coach for the Bruins. Lenover said the Hillmen are highly motivated as they approach the PVL opener Jan. 17 at home against Center. “As a team, the whole group just loves to wrestle,” Lenover said. “When we lose, we take it personally.”