It’s lonely at the top. Perhaps in no sport more than wrestling.
For the 10 area boys who qualified for the CIF state championship in Bakersfield this weekend, the days leading up to the biggest meet of their lives can be wholly unfamiliar and even a bit solitary. Gone are the crowded workout rooms. Gone, too, in most cases, are teammates.
Advancement to the North Coast Section meet thinned the herd. It was thinned considerably more after NCS, from which only those who finish in the top three advance to this weekend’s state meet.
It’s a time of hyper focus and small tweaks. It’s also a time for wrestlers to scramble for appropriate workout partners, those who will test them but not hurt them. But when just one or two guys from a team make it, where do they turn for partners? It’s not like track or swimming, when an athlete, coach and stopwatch are a perfectly acceptable training trio.
In some cases, teammates stick around to act as grappling partners.
“It’s kind of an unwritten rule — if your partner makes it, you have another week of practice,” Ukiah coach Thomas Fragoza said.
It’s also a kind of badge of honor. Those partners had something to do with the success of the state-bound athletes.
Fragoza’s 220-pound senior Dylan Miles will wrestle this weekend, but he spent the early part of the week and the entire stretch of the season working out with teammate Clayton Murray. Murray placed eighth in NCS, not enough to advance, but certainly good enough to prove his worth as a workout partner for Miles.
“He’s definitely a team player,” Fragoza said. “There was no question about him showing up.”
Other teams have turned to those who were once foes to give their guys workout partners.
Analy coach Ryan Stevens linked up state-bound 113-pound junior Trevor Bagan with wrestlers from Sonoma County League-champion Petaluma High to keep his guy fresh.
“It’s definitely weird not having my team with me. It’s a little different in that regard,” Bagan said. “But the kids in Petaluma that I practice with, they are all pretty good and they worked me out pretty hard.”
And luckily for Bagan, wrestling runs in the family. In addition to working out with the Petaluma High athletes, his younger brother, freshman Preston, has been working out with him.
“We shorten practice to about an hour,” Stevens said. “We can eliminate technique and really focus on, at this point in time, whatever Trevor needs. Then he can get 40 minutes of live wrestling.”
Bagan is not alone in his solitude, nor in his effort to piecemeal together partners this week. Coaches are sometimes called on to lace up their shoes and wrestle.
“I’m probably 40 pounds heavier than him but I’ve still been wrestling my whole life,” Maria Carrillo coach Tim Bruce said of his state-bound guy, senior Cameron Casey. “He just has to work a little bit harder. Everyone else is light if he’s been wrestling with his coaches.”
“We are actually pretty fortunate,” Fragoza said. “Out of the coaching staff, there are three of us who can put our wrestling shoes on and ante up.”
In one case, potential opponents are prepping for the same tournament, same weight class. And in a twist, they are prepping together.