Calaveras County was well represented at the Mother Lode League wrestling championships Feb. 7 at Summerville High School in Tuolumne. Of the 14 weight classes, 11 of them were won by wrestlers coming from Bret Harte or Calaveras.
Calaveras sent all 12 of its wrestlers to the finals, with nine of them placing first, while Bret Harte had two grapplers place first and one take second.
“Overall, I’d have to give us an ‘A’ grade, but we could still get better, so I’ll make it an ‘A-minus,’” Calaveras head coach Ryan Upchurch said. “I think a couple of guys wrestled up their games a little bit and a couple of guys did what they were expected to do.”
As for Bret Harte, Bullfrog coach Damien Stephens said, “It was great to see the kids perform well, but I feel like we could have finished a little better. We left some points on the mat. Not a bad showing, but I feel like we could have finished higher at 220 and heavyweight.”
Calaveras got first-place finishes from: Cody Batterton (113 pounds); Tyler Ferrante (120); Dominic Boitano (126); Garrett Randolph (138); CJ Meza (145); Owen Murphy (160); Caden Villegas (170); Donivan Giangregorio (195); and Bradley Fuller (220).
Having nine league champions was a special sight for Upchurch, but he knows how much it meant for his seniors to finish their Mother Lode League careers on top.
“I’d like to think that the seniors really enjoyed it,” Upchurch said. “When Owen Murphy walked off the mat and won a league title for the first time, I gave him a big ol’ hug and told him that I loved him and coach (Vince) Bicocca did the same thing. You could just tell how much it meant to him, because he had the biggest smile in the world.”
Calaveras had three wrestlers place second, which included CJ Munniks (132), Chris Autrey (152) and Jordan Coburn (182). Two of the three second place finishes came in losses to Bret Harte. Freshman Dakota Stephens (132) and junior Kodiak Stephens (182) finished the afternoon as league champions.
“Two of our guys lost in the finals to kids with the last name ‘Stephens,’” Upchurch said with a smile. “They are two great wrestlers and they are going to keep pushing kids for years to come.”
Being a league champion is nothing new for Kodiak Stephens, but for his younger brother to also receive the same honor was something that impressed their coach.
“It was a good sign for the future of the program to have a freshman win a league title,” Damien Stephens said. “Dakota’s performance is the result of a lot of dedication and hard work, a commitment to getting everything out of every practice and putting in extra work on his own outside of the room. We expect big things from him over the coming weeks.”
Bret Harte got a second-place finish from sophomore Alec Landry and third-place finishes from Alex Worth, Anthony Robles and Soren Jensvold, who got third place following a forfeit.
“I was surprised by a defending league champ forfeiting out of the third-place match at 145,” Damien Stephens said. “It gave Soren a third-place finish without a challenge. I don’t know what the reasons were, but that was really disappointing for us. Bullfrogs come to wrestle matches; we aren’t interested in forfeits.”
As a team, Bret Harte placed fourth, which is an encouraging sign for a program that had its first full squad in nearly six years.
“The Stephens family over at Bret Harte, we spent a lot of time with them this last spring and hopefully we will again this year and they are truly a wrestling family and anyone on that side of the river who is willing to follow them, are going to become good wrestlers,” Upchurch said. “Hopefully, we’ll continue to do what we are doing and feed off of what they are bringing to the table, too.”
Up next for Calaveras and Bret Harte is the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division V Divisional Tournament held at Rosemont High School Friday and Saturday. Calaveras will be in search of another section title, but in order to bring that blue banner back to San Andreas, it will need to knock off some of the top wrestlers in the area.
“We are chasing another blue banner. That’s the goal,” Upchurch said. “I could see us having a great tournament with the way things are lining up right now. And the coolest thing is, we won division IV, Hilmar won division V and Mariposa won division VI and we’ll all be in the same gym competing for the same title. Whoever wins this section title, will have to beat two other section champs to get it and I think that’s pretty cool.”