NBL wrestling: Ukiah rolls past Newman

By TED SILLANPAA
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Ukiah High’s wrestling team is headed back to the future.

“When we used to come into the gym, people went silent and all heads turned to look at us,” said Ukiah coach Gary Cavender, who came out of retirement this year to lead the Wildcats once again. “We won North Coast Section titles and did well at the state meet. We lost that culture. But, now, we’re working hard to get it back.”

Cavender’s effort to rebuild the once-proud Wildcats continued Tuesday with a deceptive 46-22 North Bay League dual-meet win over a young Cardinal Newman team.

“We used some of our junior varsity guys tonight,” Cavender said. “Cardinal Newman has a really young team and they will build a wrestling dynasty in time. Some of their better wrestlers didn’t perform as well as we expected. Tonight … the score made it seem closer than it was really was.”

Cardinal Newman’s Tyler Carpenter won easily at 184 pounds to start things. Ukiah proceeded to win six of the seven matches to build a commanding 34-7 lead.

Max Oswald pinned Cardinal Newman’s Tony Paiz at 197 pounds. Then, Ukiah freshman Joey Gradek pinned Cody Sousa at 115 to highlight the impressive string of victories that put the match away and showed that Ukiah might have a future to match its glorious past.

With Cavender back on the job and assisted by former Ukiah and University of Minnesota all-American wrestler Brett Colombini, the Wildcats dominated Wednesday.

“I didn’t know anything about the guy I wrestled,” Oswald said. “I didn’t wrestle a really physical match where I went out and snapped him down like the coaches teach. It actually felt like a pretty average type match for me.”

It looked as though Oswald overwhelmed his younger opponent. He scored a takedown just 22 seconds into the match, then rolled Paiz over and pinned him seconds later.

“That’s the kind of effort we expect from our guys,” Cavender said. “We expect 100 percent effort, 100 percent of the time. They’re getting better every time they wrestle. We’re just getting ready for postseason. That’s what it’s all about.”

Ukiah’s Alex Rodriguez caught Duncan Stephens off balance early in the first round to score a takedown at 222. Rodriguez nearly scored a pin as time ran out in the opening period. Leading 6-0 in the final round, Colombini told Rodriguez to let Stephens up to take him back down again. Two takedowns later, Rodriguez had a 10-2 victory.

“Our coaches teach us to just keep going,” said Gradek, who won a grueling match over Cody Sousa with a third-round pin. “The coaches prepare us really well. They expect us to work really hard and be able to be fresh later in matches.”

Gradek took two rounds to build a 7-2 lead over Sousa in one of the evening’s more competitive matches.

The Cardinal Newman wrestler started the third round in the down position, but Gradek was instructed to allow a one-point escape to wrestle more aggressively standing up in a neutral position.

“I didn’t know anything about him, but a friend of mine had wrestled him and sort of told me what to expect,” Gradek said. “When I wrestle, I have a plan then adjust to what I feel the other guy doing.”

Gradek appeared to have Sousa pinned, with both legs locked tightly around the Newman wrestler. Sousa, however, managed a stirring escape with 1:34 left in the third round. No sooner did Sousa reverse Gradek than did the Ukiah star score a reversal of his own, move quickly to flip Sousa on his back and then score the pin with only 22.6 seconds left in the match.

“We’re a young team,” admitted first-year Cardinal Newman coach Francisco "Pancho" Manriquez, who wrestled at Ukiah for Adam Aikman and Brett Colombini. “It’s frustrating for us as coaches because we can only expect so much out of an inexperienced team. We’re getting there.”

Cardinal Newman got back-to-back pins from Max Campana (147) and Chris Moreno (154) to begin the process of closing what had been a massive Ukiah lead.

“That’s what they’re expected to do,” Manriquez said of Campana and Moreno.

“They’re seniors and they’ve been around awhile. We need those guys to score big points for us and they did tonight.”

In the most crowd-pleasing match, Ukiah freshman girls middle school all-American Harmonie Roberts put on an impressive performance, only to lose an 18-16 thriller to Joey Frazier in overtime.

“That wasn’t her best performance,” Cavender said after Roberts excited fans in her fast-paced match with Frazier. “She’s pretty upset about it right now, but she’s just doing an outstanding job for us.”