You know a coach is immersed in wrestling when he's even passionate about the winter weather. Such a coach is Oakdale High's Brian Stevens.
To him, the January fog and February storms mean it's prime time for takedowns, reversals, escapes and pins in humid wrestling rooms and teeming arenas.
"The weather is lousy. You're stuck in a room. You're trying to break the monotony," says Stevens, in his sixth season as coach of one of the Stanislaus District's top programs.
Then again, Stevens also likes the postseason when a hint of spring crosses the sky, just in time for the pressure-filled meets.
"Now the weather is starting to clear up. It's a little lighter outside. You can run a little bit," he said. "Now is when it matters. Before now, it was just practice. I tell the guys, 'I don't care about your record. I care about guys getting better.' "
Oakdale clearly is getting better. It romped to its second straight Sac-Joaquin Section Team Dual title — its third in the last four years — with two easy victories last weekend at Rosemont High in Sacramento.
The Mustangs spend most of the season traveling up and down California matching up against top-tier wrestlers. Starting last weekend, they are now showing off their talent closer to home. They were unbeaten in Valley Oak League duals, which makes them the team to beat at the VOL Championships at Weston Ranch on Saturday.
Oakdale's lineup is formidable: 103, Juan Garza (23-5); 112, Wyatt Casey, (20-2); 119, Tyler Malone (28-12); 125, Cody Sleeman (18-6); 130, Shane Tate (26-4); 135, Jake Butler (15-3); 140, Garrett Avant (20-9); 145, Dustin Harris (2-2); 152, Trent Noon (10-0); 160, Kevin Butler (21-5); 171, AC Brown (25-7); 189, Hondo Arpoika (15-9); 215, Charlie Gilstrap (29-5); and, heavyweight, Tim House (12-7). Harris is scheduled to return this week from a wrist injury.
"I still think we have way more potential," Stevens said in Sacramento after the section duals. "We lost a few matches we had no business losing. We have to step way up."
Oakdale's success in football and wrestling often seems to be connected, as though one can't thrive without the other. That said, Stevens likes the autonomy.
"Football is fun," he said. "Wrestling is hard."
NOTES — Ceres made a creditable showing at the section duals by defeating Center before losing to Placer in the Division IV semifinals. The Bulldogs (14-2) lost only to Placer and Oakdale. "This was probably the best season we've had in about 15 years," Ceres coach Jon Nowicki said. "I'm proud of our kids for getting this far." ... Central Catholic jumps to Division IV next year, which is good news for Division V followers after the Raiders clinched their fifth straight D-V team dual title. Their dynasty continued even without senior heavyweight Matt Galas whose foot injury incurred during the football playoffs didn't heal in time. Galas was a Section Masters champion who placed seventh in the state last year. "We've really missed him," CC coach Steve Strange said. "Next year will be a big challenge." ...
Turlock High's Alexia Moreno became the first female in school history to be crowned a Section Masters champion. She beat Sarina Nieves of Elk Grove 9-1 in her weight class finals at the Girls Masters Tournament last weekend at McNair High. The week before, Moreno was second at the Girls State at Hanford. ... Coming up: League championships Thursday through Saturday. The Modesto Metro will be Friday at Enochs.
Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2302.