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Wrestlers Capture Team Duals Division 5 Banner
A happy group of Cougar wrestlers and coaches pose with the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 5 Team Duals championship banner, which the varsity squad won during a battle with Bear River on Saturday, Jan. 29 in Natomas. Photo Contributed

Perseverance resulted in some major success this week for the Escalon varsity Cougars on the wrestling mats, as they traveled to Natomas on Saturday and came home with a blue banner.

The wrestlers, said head coach Derek Scott, claimed the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 5 title at the Team Duals hosted Jan. 29, defeating Bear River for the coveted banner.

But, said the coach, it was a rocky road to get there.

They had to travel to Livingston to make up a previously postponed match, the Wolves had canceled earlier due to COVID issues. This time, it was the Cougars who were down wrestlers but they had to get the match in, so the team went on the road, down five competitors.

“The JV squad went first. With the varsity needing wrestlers the JV squad was really depleted,” Scott explained. “Frank Rodriguez and Victor Romero each won their close tough matches, before the team lost to forfeits 24-6.”

The varsity girls then competed and went 3-0 in wrestled matches with Isabella Alcala winning twice and Dani Roybal also winning her match.

“The girls are doing a great job,” noted Scott. “Isabella got a rematch of a girl she tied in five overtimes about a month ago. She wore her down and pinned her in the second round of a non-competitive match. She is going to surprise some people in the playoffs.”

The girls lost 18-30 despite winning all the wrestled matches.

The varsity boys, coming in shorthanded against a very tough Livingston team, had their chances to win but went 1-4 and got pinned three times in the close matches.

“In dual meets you just can’t get pinned like that. They ended up dropping a 34-46 decision.”

Entering a critical dual on Jan. 26 at Hilmar, the Cougars were at 3-1 and in third place in the Trans-Valley League.

“The Cougars returned most of their starting squad back and needed an inspired effort against the Hilmar Yellowjackets, undefeated in league duals the past three years,” Scott explained. “They had to have an impressive score to jump from third to first in league and qualify for the COVID-reduced team duals with only one team per league instead of two.”

First up, the JV team prevailed 21-0; the JV Cougars finished the regular season at 4-1 and were second in the TVL.

EHS Varsity Girls went 2-0 with Alcala and Roybal both picking up wins and Jessica Freitas receiving a forfeit. The girls won the dual 18-0 to finish 2-2, third place in the TVL.

“At the varsity boys level, the Cougars took on undefeated Hilmar with the TVL title odds stacked against them and rallied to a 54-30 victory. This allowed them to leapfrog Hilmar and Livingston by criteria and claim the number one spot in the TVL heading into team sections,” Scott said. “This time we were 4-0 with four pins in the close matches. We out toughed Hilmar and took away their momentum. Big wins for the Cougars came from Christian T Cruz, JP Lial and the inspiring story of the night was 195 pounder Anthony Jones volunteering to take one for the team and cut weight that evening and all day the next day to fill the team’s vacated 182 pound spot for the rest of the year.”

Scott said not only that, Jones provided the clinching match of the pivotal TVL win.

“I was really proud of Anthony. He came up with the idea and followed our advice working his butt off to help the team,” said the coach.

At the Team Section Duals, Escalon took on Pioneer Valley League champion Bear River in the finals.

“We came out and continued our momentum from Wednesday night and overwhelmed Bear River 63-18 with seven falls to clinch the 2022 CIF Team Division 5 Duals Section Title,” Scott said.

Biggest wins came from the 120 through 160 weight classes with victories from Kalyb Miller, Matthew Rangel, Luis Garcia, Josh Graham, Talan Reider and Christian Rowe.

“We still have some fundamental things to work on this week but all in all the kids did a great job. I’m extremely proud of how they bounced back after Tuesday’s (Livingston) match. They didn’t perform well and I was pretty hard on them for the first time this year. I was proud to see they didn’t hang their heads, they dug in and responded like winners,” Scott added. “This was a true team effort, winning our eighth Wrestling Section Title at EHS in the past 21 years. We’re really hitting our stride at the right time. Our coaching staff has done a great job getting them ready to wrestle.”

Coaches Eric Rowe, Travis James, Ray Scott, Brent Noon and Ray Krieger were all on hand to assist Scott with coaching the team on Jan. 29.

“Next we go to Modesto Christian for the TVL meet. That will end the season for the JV team, serve as a seeding meeting for the girls and determine TVL champion in a tied three way race going in,” Scott noted of the upcoming Feb. 5 competition. “The top four varsity boys qualify to divisionals the next week with fifth place being an alternate.”