A full day of competition at Lincoln High School in Stockton saw the Escalon Cougars come away with the runner-up plaque in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V team wrestling duals.
Escalon entered the day as the Trans-Valley League number two seed and started off the tournament by taking on Dixon in round one. EHS defeated Dixon 66-11, getting wins from JW Mills, Christian Rowe, Aidan Krieger, Owen Nash, Nick Freeseha, Casey Vassallo, Brad Hagglund, Garrett Nash, Preston Ball, Hunter Budd, Sebastian Snow, CJ Miller Sean Vassallo.
Then in the semifinals the Cougars faced another number two seed, Bear River. The Cougars had an inspired effort beating Bear River 70-12.
“We wrestled great, we were taken very lightly in the seeding meeting and the guys responded,” explained head coach Derek Scott. “Like I told them beforehand, the way to respond is not with your mouth but with your intensity and effort.”
Leading the way for the Cougars were JW Mills, Luis Garcia, Sean Mahony, Rowe, Krieger, Austin Roberts, Freeseha, Garrett Nash, Hagglund, Manuel Diaz, Snow and Sean Vassallo.
“That brought us to a re-match with TVL rival Hilmar,” Scott said of facing off with the familiar foe in the Section title match. “Hilmar on paper is a much more talented and experienced team. I told the guys if everyone goes all out and we win a couple we aren’t supposed to, we have a chance.”
The wrestlers responded, Scott said, with the team as a whole stepping up and giving themselves a chance to win. The Cougars grabbed the lead and held it through much of the competition. Hilmar, however, found a way to come out on top, winning a couple of late crucial matches to edge past the Escalon squad, 33-27.
“I was very happy with our guys. Just about every guy wrestled tough and inspired, each guy feeding off each other,” said Scott.
Losing tough matches that were very competitive and back and forth until the end were Luis Garcia and Preston Ball.
“Winning for the Cougars were Christian Rowe, Aidan Krieger, Owen Nash in a wild back and forth with Owen showing a lot of heart and poise,” added Scott. “Also winning were Garrett Nash, Brad Hagglund Manny Diaz and Sean Vassallo. This was a great match to be a part of and hopefully shows us as playoffs start we can hang with anybody if we were all in.”
The Cougars were coached by Derek Scott, Ray Scott, Ray Krieger, Erica Lopez, Eric Rowe, Kirt Smith, and parent volunteer Jeremy Mills. The varsity boys, girls and JV boys kick off the postseason at Hilmar on Saturday, Feb. 8.
Earlier action saw the EHS squads heading to Hughson for a dual meet and both varsity teams came in at 4-1. The Cougars ultimately prevailed, which gave them the number two seed headed into the Section meet.
In the Jan. 29 competition at Hughson, big wins came from Mills, Krieger, Freeseha, Garrett Nash, Hagglund, Diaz and Sean Vassallo.
“Fighting out of trouble, flat out toughing and pinning the guy in the third round was Nicholas Freeseha,” Scott said of the wrestler working to come from behind and get a victory. “I couldn’t be happier for Nick. He showed how tough he really is. He has come a long way this year as a wrestler and a person. The emotion and effort he showed fired the whole team up and started our comeback. We lose that match, it’s over.”
But Freeseha’s big win provided the emotional lift the team needed.
Trailing by two points entering the final match, the Cougars needed a win to take the match.
“Wrestling an opponent he had always lost to in club wrestling, trailing by one in the final round, J.W. Mills got an escape and a takedown along with a near fall in the closing minutes of the match to win the dual for us 37-36,” Scott said. “I was happy it was Mills in that situation, even though he’s only a freshman, he’s just flat out tough.”
Escalon finished 5-1 overall and second in TVL. At the JV level against Hughson, Escalon won 36-0 by forfeit and finished the season 5-1 and second in TVL. At Varsity girls Escalon won 30-0 by forfeit. They finished league at 4-2 and third in TVL.