Wrestling is one of the purest high school sports. No excuses. No gimmicks. May the best man, or woman, win.
At Foothill High, wrestling is about more than individual excellence, though. It's a team mindset, from the freshmen to the seniors, that keeps the Falcons hungry and marching together toward their objectives.
Guided by veteran co-coaches Bennie LaFever and Dennis Golcher, Foothill bested rival Amador Valley 54-18 on Feb. 6 to earn its first East Bay Athletic League Dual Meet championship in six years. Golcher was also named the North Coast Section wrestling honor coach for the first time.
"I think that the big thing is we are a team," Golcher said. "We had roughly 50 kids sign up for the program this year, and we've had three wrestlers hurt and still have 44 on the team at the end of the year. So the team has been a team throughout the entire year."
Indeed, the Falcons thrived, 14 strong, at tournaments, winning four team titles and placing second once. Competing without individual stars has made it fun for everyone.
"At every tournament we were bringing home 10 or 11 medals with very few champions," Golcher said. "We only had two champions all year."
Senior captains Zac Wilner and JP Parisi set the tone for the squad.
"They have done everything from the get-go, continuing to lead by example," Golcher said. "They'll still move mats. They'll still clean mats, and that's just propagated to everyone
Additionally, Louie Desprez, Kyle Batoy and freshman Blake Braden, who has over 30 wins this season, helped the Falcons average a whopping 33-point margin of victory in EBAL matches.
The No. 5 seeded Falcons placed fourth at the North Coast Section Division I Dual Team Championships on Feb. 9, falling to Liberty 44-22 in the third-place match. Foothill, which also placed fourth in 2011, reeled off wins over Dougherty Valley, Freedom and College Park in consolation action.
Over the past three seasons, the Falcons are 18-2 in EBAL dual meets, their only losses coming against De La Salle, which has won the last five NCS team titles.
The Spartans did not compete in EBAL dual meets this season but will vie for NCS individual spots in the EBAL tournament on Feb. 16 at Foothill.
All in all, it has been a terrific season for the Falcons (10-2 overall), who lost six of their 14 starting wrestlers from the previous season, including 2012 graduates and NCS placers John Eberle, Connor Aura and Austin Soto, along with EBAL placer Cal Dutrow.
Foothill has been without injured upper-weight standouts: senior Griffith Gates, who was banged up after football season, and Jon Carandang, the team's only EBAL champion last season who had ACL surgery midway through the season.
The brain trust of LaFever and Golcher, in their seventh together season at Foothill, has proven tough to beat. They both wrestled and co-coached at Amador Valley.
"We've been together probably since 1984 coaching," LaFever said. "We took off for about five or six years before we took over at Foothill, and it's been awesome. He's a good guy."
On the girls side, Foothill sophomore Rachel Butler became the school's first female qualifier for the California Interscholastic Federation championships (Feb. 22-23, Lemoore). Butler advanced by placing second at 146 pounds at the NCS tournament on Feb. 2 in Pittsburg. Butler won her first two matches by pin before falling 5-4 against Clayton Valley Prep's Kristina Arteaga in the championship match.
Contact Matt Schwab at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter at schwab_matt.