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Wolverine grapplers succeeding with low numbers

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Sierra College Wrestling, by Andy Wilcox, Journal Sports Editor (andyw@goldcountrymedia.com) For having a first-year coach who was hired basically right before the season, the Sierra College wrestling team seems to have its act together. Under the guidance of Ken Wharry, the Wolverines improved to 3-1 in the Bay Valley Conference last Thursday with a 26-17 win over visiting Skyline of Oakland. They opened BVC play last month with a 22-21 road win over archrival Sacramento City last month, their first win over the school in probably two decades. They also defeated Delta of Stockton and lost 32-17 to Shasta, both at home. At 7 p.m. next Thursday, Halloween, they will host Modesto Junior College in their final home match of the year. Spectators may purchase raffle tickets for the team fund-raiser, the grand prize being a trip for two to Hawaii. As successful as his first Sierra team has been, it?s a bit small numbers-wise for Wharry?s tastes. He is anxious to see what he can do before next season, in terms of luring more of the talent from the wrestling-rich foothills and eastern Sacramento area through a summer wrestling camp and class and freestyle wrestling. ?The thing right now is we?re real thin on numbers,? said Wharry, who has less than half that. ?You need 50 guys in a wrestling room. But we?re going through a tough time with injuries. You need to be two, three deep at every weight so you can have good practices and play with your lineup more.? Wharry does have four grapplers from Del Oro who know what a full wrestling room is like. Despite their alma mater?s 43-meet league win streak, Wharry said the former Golden Eagles have found college wrestling a little tougher than expected. ?When high school wrestlers who have had a lot of success don?t have that same success in college, it?s hard for them to deal with,? the coach said. ?It?s a lot more physical here ? the refs allow that ? and practices are a lot more physical. ?In high school, you can get away with a lot of things (less precise technique). But it?s an every-single-day thing here and that mental part is very difficult. You start doubting your abilities.? Two former Golden Eagles are among Sierra?s top starters ? freshman Matt Lantz, who sports a 7-3 record at 157 pounds, and sophomore Gabe Ruhkala, who is 6-4 at 141s. Lantz not only won a Sac-Joaquin Section title in his senior year at Del Oro, but also starred as a kicker and punter in football and was a standout on the soccer team. He was the Wolverine football team?s kicker last year, and apparently lost some sharpness while committing himself to the gridiron. ?Matt is one of the guys who have had a hard time taking the pounding that an average college wrestler gives you, and he?s one of our most talented kids,? Wharry said. ?But if he pulls it together he could have a good shot (at making the state meet).? Lantz isn?t far from that at all. He lost in the semifinals at both the Modesto and Sac City tournaments by a single point ? in double-overtime at the latter. He went on to place fifth at Modesto, up at 165s. ?Matt would be one of the top-ranked guys in the state if he?d won those matches,? Wharry said of Lantz, who beat a good Skyline opponent 10-8 last week. Ruhkala has also wrestled up, at 149s. But he?s mostly gone at 141s, where he dominated a very worthy opponent last week with a technical fall. ?That was the first big match where he wrestled really well,? Wharry said of Ruhkala. ?He?s a very powerful wrestler, he has great takedowns and he?s mentally really tough.? Wharry said Ruhkala, who finished fourth at the Modesto tourney, plans to wrestle next year for national power Iowa. ?Even if they don?t make him a (scholarship) offer, he?s going to walk on,? the coach said. ?They wrestle a hard-core, in-your-face, gonna-break-you-down kind of style and they?re always in the top 3 (in the national rankings).? Also from Del Oro are 184-pound freshmen Joe Lovisolo and Steve Lee, who are 1-3 and 0-1, respectively. In last Thursday?s match, Lee?s first of the season after he came out late, he stormed out to an 8-1 lead. But with only three days of practice, he got tired early and was pinned. Robert Dashnaw, a freshman out of Casa Roble, is at 125s, and Chris David, a sophomore from Oroville, is at 133s. David had the winning pin with one second left of the thriller over Sac City. At 133s is freshman John Villegas from Roseville High. He has also struggled with injuries and has a 1-4 record, but has been a tough sparring partner for David and Dashnaw. Freshmen Vincent Jacobs of Nevada Union and Lance Kennix of Natomas are battling at 149s. The 165 spot is between sophomore Chris Adams and freshmen Justin Stanley (Rocklin) and Sean Spagnoli (Del Campo ). Probably the team?s top hopefuls for the state meet are freshmen Cory Bonincontri, a San Juan product who is 9-4 at 174s, and Jeremiah Hunt, a River City grad with a 10-3 record at 197s. Heavyweight Nick Weaver, from upstate New York, was coaxed out West after Wharry coached him on a European tour. Wharry wrestled at the former La Sierra High in Carmichael, and made the section meet twice despite picking up the sport as a sophomore.. He went on to wrestle at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, where he was a two-time All-American in 1987 and 1988 and won the 134-pound national title as a senior. He went on to assistant coach at two southern Oregon high schools, one of which was nationally ranked, then at SOU before coming home to assist former Sierra head coach Casey Griffin in 1996. Last year, Wharry was a co-head coach at University of Nevada-Reno. He is assisted at Sierra by Natomas head coach Don Martinez and Mesa Verde assistant coach August Wesley. Having lured a wrestler all the way from back East to wrestle for the Wolverines, Wharry hopes he has the same luck with the immense talent right in Sierra?s backyard. ?I need to be with the guys year-round, not three or four months,? he said. ?I?ll have some of these guys working at the camp and high school wrestlers will be welcome to register for my class. It will be a great opportunity to see how I coach and how we do things here.?