In early 2017, the Bret Harte High School wrestling program was shut down due to lack of interest. For a year, the wrestling room in Angels Camp had its lights turned off and the doors shut. One year later, the lights were turned back on and the doors opened for only a few wrestlers.
But those few began to grow.
Now, nearly three years later, the once quiet wrestling room is again filled with grapplers, and space is quickly becoming an issue. For Bret Harte head coach Mike Borean, that’s a wonderful problem to have.
“I’m ecstatic,” Borean said about having a roster with 16 wrestlers on it. “We’ve tripled our numbers from last year. I think a lot of that had to do with us hosting the league tournament here last year. Students at Bret Harte got to watch wrestling competition for the first time and that is a great recruiting tool. I hope we can double our numbers next year and I’d like to outgrow this room and have to move into that other room.”
One of the main reasons why so many bodies are in the wrestling room is because of the constant recruiting conducted by junior Kodiak Stephens. As a sophomore, Stephens, who wrestled at 170 pounds, was a Mother Lode League champion, a CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division V champion, placed fifth at the Masters Tournament and qualified for the CIF State Tournament. Borean expects nothing less than a return trip to state for his star grappler.
“His goal is to be a state champion this year, and I think he’s going to at least podium,” Borean said of his 185-pound team leader. “He’s matured, as far as a wrestler goes. He’s the unspoken leader and he’s doing a great job. He’s working out with some first-year novices and he’s being a great coach.”
Kodiak is not the only Stephens who looks poised to do some damage this year. Younger brother Dakota, who is a freshman, will wrestle at 135 pounds. Borean feels that Dakota might be a notch ahead of where Kodiak was as a freshman. But the one thing that Dakota has that Kodiak doesn’t is an older brother to teach him the ropes.
“He (Dakota) got to grow up with a big brother who is skilled,” Borean said. “He had more competition at a younger age than Kodiak did, so he got to benefit from that. They both have completely different personalities and styles, but they are both really intense. I would be shocked if Dakota didn’t win league and I have no doubt that he’s going to go to masters.”
Junior Soren Jensvold enters the wrestling room after a season of running cross country; unlike last year, he doesn’t have a broken hand at the beginning of the season. Jensvold feels that competing with Kodiak has made him a better wrestler.
“It totally makes me better,” Jensvold said. “I’ve wrestled with him and Dakota all my life. It’s good to wrestle someone who is heavier than you with more experience, because that’ll help with conditioning. He’s also doing more complex moves and he’ll teach me what to do in certain situations, and that makes me an all-around better wrestler.”
Borean feels Jensvold had a strong sophomore season once he healed from his hand injury and had a great match in the Mother Lode League Tournament when he scored a 5-0 defeat over Sonora High School’s Trevor Davis.
“He’s right in there with Kodi and Dakota,” Borean said of Jensvold. “He ran cross country, so his cardio is through the roof. He gives Dakota a good run for his money.”
Another returner from 2018-19 is sophomore heavyweight Alec Landry. Landry’s transformation between his freshman and sophomore years has been a welcome surprise to Borean.
“Physically, he has matured tremendously,” Borean said. “Last year, he couldn’t do a push-up, and now he’s just pumping them out. Last year he was clumsy on his feet and now he’s able to get his moves in. He doesn’t resemble last year’s Alec at all. I expect him to do a good job.”
While Borean is thrilled with what he sees in the wrestling room, he knows that there is always a chance that numbers can start to dwindle as the year progresses. Injuries and grades can become issues, but when it comes to quitters, Borean doesn’t believe he has any in his room.
“All these kids in the room, they have really great heart and are in for the long haul,” Borean said. “My biggest concern as a high school coach is always grades; it just drives me nuts when they can’t hold a 2.0. And then, there’s always injuries. But if the kids in the room can stay healthy, we are going to give every kid in the league competition.”
Bret Harte’s wrestling room isn’t just filled with male grapplers. Sophia Licea is one of the girls who will pound the mat this season, and she has given Borean no indication that she wants to take it easy.
“We coach them (the girls) the same as the boys,” Borean said. “We teach them the same moves, the same techniques and the same aggression. Sophia has tremendous heart.”
Even though Bret Harte has been practicing for a while, that doesn’t mean the roster is set in stone. Borean has an open-door policy and regardless of when he or she might approach the wrestling room, if any Bret Harte student wants to give wrestling a shot, he’ll welcome them with open arms.
“We never stop recruiting,” Borean said. “We need bodies in the room and it’s just going to build our program. If a kid wants to come the last week of the season and work out, he’s welcome to. Hopefully he’ll get the bug and be back next year.”