By Ray Hamill — The best local high school girls wrestlers will be in action this weekend at the annual Napa Valley Classic at Vintage High, which gets under way on Friday.
The prestigious two-day tournament has grown into one of the top events of its kind in NorCal, and a perfect platform for the growing number of local competitors to showcase the evolution of the sport here in Humboldt County.
Nowhere has that growth been more evident than at Eureka High.
“Five years ago, we had eight freshmen, and we’ve taken those eight and converted it into the 31 that came out this year,” Eureka head coach Cecil Wilson said.
Last season, the Loggers fielded a separate team from the boys for the first time ever, with Wilson switching from assistant boys coach to run the emerging girls program.
And, according to the coach, this winter is going to be a season of firsts for the sport in this area.
On Jan. 19th, the Loggers will host a first North Coast Classic exclusively for the girls, with an expected 80 competitors on tap.
More importantly, this winter the Humboldt-Del Norte League will hold a first-ever girls league championships, handing out the coveted White Stars for the first time.
The growing popularity of the sport locally is evident in the growing number of participants at schools like Eureka, McKinleyville and Arcata.
The Panthers will join the Loggers in Napa this weekend, with senior Audrianna Beattie expected to be among the state qualifiers again this year.
Beattie, a senior who has already accepted a scholarship offer with York College in Nebraska, is one of three McKinleyville wrestlers to make the trip, along with 15 Eureka girls.
“We’ve got almost every weight covered this year,” said Wilson, who will have wrestlers competing in 12 of the 14 weight classes. “And we’ve got some expectations going down.”
The Loggers are enjoying a stellar season that has included a pair of tournament victories in four tourney appearances, as well as a second- and a third-place finish.
And the team’s evolving depth has played a big part in that success.
“At Grants Pass, it took the whole team to win,” Wilson said of one of the recent tournaments. “We didn’t take a first there (individually), but we won the tournament.”
Among the many impressive performers for the team this year, junior Aracely Rendon, who is 14-1 on the year, and sophomore Helena Rogers, with just one loss, have been leading the way.
“We’ve got a good team,” Wilson said of his squad, which features mostly freshmen and sophomores. “We’ve got a lot of solid girls all the way through. For a young team, we’re very deep.”
That depth will be tested this weekend, but Wilson is looking for the tougher competition to help develop his young grapplers.
“This is what I call a seeding tournament,” he said. “It’s where we can go and feel out the competition, which helps us find out where we are.
“What I’m looking for is a good team effort. And personally I’d like to be in the top 10.”
That would represent another breakthrough for the young program, whose best finish at the annual tournament was 16th.
Beattie leads the way for Mack
The Panthers, meanwhile, will bring three wrestlers to the event, including Beattie.
The Mack senior has been battling a shoulder injury, but is building back to full strength and should be among the top challengers at 160 pounds.
“She hasn’t been wrestling much, so we’ll see how she does this weekend,” McKinleyville head coach Virgil Moorehead said. “I’m looking to see where she’s at, and for her to start gearing up for sections and state.”
The McKinleyville standout placed fourth at state a year ago as a junior.
Beattie will be joined this weekend by teammates Dakota AndersonSpirit and Anastasiya Briggs, whom the coach will be looking to see gain some valuable experience at such a competitive event.