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Prep Wrestling Preview: Golden Valley's turn?

Three blue banners hang in Cougar Arena.

Every fan can look up on the wall and see the Sac-Joaquin Section titles won in boys basketball (1997), boys track (1997) and girls basketball (2000).

Golden Valley senior Jack Anderson wouldn't mind coming back to the gym a couple years from now and seeing a fourth banner hanging.

"It would nice to be able to say I was apart of that team," Anderson said.

With a lineup that will likely include 10 seniors -- five of whom have been in the GV program all four years -- Anderson and his teammates harbor high expectations this season.

"I think we have a good shot," said Chopper Mello, who is in his 11th season coaching at GV. "We'll be disappointed if we don't win it. We have high goals."

For starters, Mello feels this is easily the most experienced group he's had during his time at Golden Valley.

They return almost everybody who helped GV finish second at last year's Sac-Joaquin Section Division I South tournament.

"This group really wants it," Mello said. "The seniors were just freshmen when we were co-champs in 2005.

"That was the year we won our first sub-section title. That was a big influence on these kids."

GV has won just one Central California Conference title since the school opened in 1994.

Turlock dominated the CCC for years before Buhach Colony joined the conference last year.

With its own special group of seniors -- including state placers Frankie Flores and Daniel Osmer -- Buhach Colony dominated the CCC last year.

"The group Buhach Colony had was very special," Mello said. "A lot of those kids were together since they were little. They had two coaches' sons on the team.

"A group like that doesn't come around very often. Our group is a lot different.

"They've only come together in high school. We're not nearly as experienced as them.

"But our guys have a lot of heart. A lot of our guys played football and you saw their heart on the football field."

Anderson, Lee Xiong, J.J. Terry, Lawrence Ramirez and Thomas Marquez have all been with Mello their entire high school careers.

Golden Valley has always been near the top. It has finished second in the CCC six times, including last year.

"Now it's our turn," Xiong said. "We can be Buhach this year.

"If we win league it's like a prince becoming a king."

Mello has the depth to go along with his experience.

While most kids seem to be avoiding wrestling rooms like a 10-page term paper, GV has 60 kids showing up for workouts every day.

That number will continue to grow in the next couple years as the kids from the youth wrestling program Mello started five years ago, Mat Cats, filter into the high school program.

Some of the freshmen this year are the first to come though the youth program.

Why is wrestling so popular at GV?

"I don't know," Mello said. "I wish I could tell you.

"We take pride in our numbers. It's a big reason we've been successful.

"You see a lot of teams with forfeits in their lineup. We won't forfeit to anybody."

For wrestlers like J.J. Terry, the attraction of wrestling is simple.

"It's the competition," Terry said. "It's just one-on-one on the mat."

Golden Valley knows winning its second CCC title is not going to be easy.

The CCC is always one of the toughest wrestling conferences in the section.

Turlock, BC and Los Banos will all be strong again.

Merced always has some of the top individual talent.

"We always have high expectations," Mello said. "We want to compete for a league title every year and that hasn't changed.

"With the amount of experience we have and the league being more balanced, we expect to be right at the top."

Shawn Jansen is a Sun-Star sports reporter. He can be reached at 385-2462 or via e-mail atsjansen@mercedsun-star.com.

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