By ALLIE COLOSKY
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
FORESTVILLE – The lights were off in the gym at El Molino High School as the wrestling teams lined up on the sides of the mat facing each other.
The single spotlight hanging over the mat illuminated the wrestlers from El Molino and Petaluma, as five of the 14 individual matches were announced as a forfeit.
Five forfeits total, and this was a good night for the Lions.
El Molino High School has the smallest enrollment among the seven schools in the Sonoma County League. That fact contributes mightily to the biggest obstacle wrestling coach Bill Borges faces — trying to fill every weight class.
“We have been having this problem with not having enough wrestling bodies, but this year, I really see the league having the same problem,” he said.
The talent is there, however, as showed most recently in the Lions’ 50-27 dual-meet victory against Petaluma on Tuesday. The Lions had to forfeit only two individual matches and had three wrestlers earn six team points for pinning their opponents.
Petaluma had to forfeit three individual matches, illustrating something Borges is seeing across the SCL.
“It’s a trend for the SCL now, too,” Borges said. “We used to be a very powerful league and now we are striving to be mediocre.”
In a “mediocre league,” El Molino has shown up to matches with a very young team and been anything but mediocre. The older wrestlers — only four juniors — have stepped up into heavier weight classes in order to fill empty spots.
“They answered the call and they had the ability to do that,” Borges said. “They’re very skilled wrestlers.”
Junior Tony Gemini has grown into a leadership role for the Lions, Borges said, and he has been put to the test. Gemini moved up to the 134-pound weight class in Tuesday’s meet and pinned Petaluma’s Blake Hartlieb in the second round.
As one of the oldest and most experienced, Gemini said it has been a blast to lead this group of wrestlers and show the younger kids that they can’t let their doubts scare them.
“You have to show them that you can’t be afraid to wrestle bigger, better guys,” he said about motivating his younger teammates. “You can prove to yourself that you are better than what you think you are.”
For Gemini, being counted out of the meet from the beginning actually is motivating, he said, because it makes all the individual matches really count.
“It’s not discouraging because we know that, mathematically, we are out of it. Even if we all pin them, there’s still too many guys to win,” Gemini said. “So it just motivates us to win all our matches, because that’s all we can do.”
Some of the younger members of the team are still struggling with only one league win, but look to each other for the motivation to keep going.
Sophomore Sam MacDonell won his individual match on Tuesday against Petaluma’s Jack Reynolds with a pin in the third round. It’s discouraging, he said, to not win the meet because of low numbers, but they rally around each other and keep pushing their brothers on the team.
“We’ve all known each other since the fifth grade because it’s a small area,” MacDonell said. “We’re just like family.”
A small family, maybe, but the Lions are a very tight-knit family.
MacDonell started wrestling in the fourth grade, when Borges coached him at the Mat Rats Wrestling Club. Gemini joined the family in his freshman year, he said, when his mom made him wrestle because she told him he “wasn’t very good at basketball.”
“I don’t blame her, because I wasn’t very good,” Gemini said, “but I went along with it and I fell in love with it.”
Borges is in his 10th year with the Lions wrestling team and has continued to motivate his guys to be bigger than their small-school reputation.
“He can take a really bad wrestler and turn them into a league placer in one season,” Gemini said with a snap of his fingers. “He motivates you by asking if you want to win league or just be like everyone else.”
And when someone asks you that, he said, you don’t want to be just like everyone else.