By Guest writer Bob Challinor.  

This season’s Virgin Valley High School wrestling team won’t be the smooth high-tech version people might expect. There might be some gear grinding this year.

“You see teams that look like Corvettes,” said head wrestling coach Skyler Woods, “but we’re like a tractor plugging through the mud. The dirtier it gets, the better it is for us.”

Gone are the Corvettes from last season. The Bulldogs lost two-time state champion Juan Dominguez and two-time state runner-up Broc Smith (who both wrestle for Graceland University in Iowa) plus Cash Crandall, Hector Garcia and Domingo Ramirez to graduation.

“Four of those five were state placers,” Woods said. “We lost a lot of leadership. But we’ve named our captains already. They’re all underclassmen, except Jacob (Baird). We based it on the time they put in. We hope they can step in for the guys who have been here so many years. Those are some big shoes to fill.”

Fill them they will. Twenty athletes showed up on the first day, “and they’ve all stayed so far,” Woods said.

The 2015-16 team returns only four letter-winners and will be top-heavy with young, inexperienced wrestlers. The Bulldogs welcomed six freshmen to go along with six sophomores, two juniors and five seniors.

“It’s hard to know how the team will do this early,” Woods said. “They’ve been going hard in practice. They’ll get out and scrap. They’re getting after it, and that’s what we want.

“We have a bunch of tough kids who don’t have a lot of quit in them. We have great returners who put in a lot of time during the spring and summer. We have some inexperienced guys who are older, but they’re more mature and that’ll help us out.”

Woods said he “will try to meet somewhere in the middle” to blend the highly experienced wrestlers with those who have earned little to no varsity mat time.

“We can’t hold back the experienced guys or go too fast for the other ones,” he said. “We’ll make sure we’re in great shape and try to out-tough some people.”

The trademark of VVHS’ wrestling program over the years has been to “out-tough” other teams through grueling conditioning that translate to victories. It will be no different this season. Woods bolstered an already excellent coaching staff with the addition of Ron Frieling who is working with wrestlers in the weight room. Woods’ coaching staff is full of familiar wrestling icons: Leon Durbin, Eli Colburn, Scott Woods and Matt Woods.

“They’re all like-minded,” Skyler Woods said. “They want us to be tough and physical and beat up on people. They like to score points make opposing fans quiet.”

When it comes to scoring points this season, the job begins with Ty Smith and Baird. Smith is the defending state champion at 106 pounds and will be a favorite to capture his second state title. Baird, currently wrestling at 126 pounds, won the state championship at 106 pounds in 2014 and placed third at 113 pounds last season.

“He’ll probably go to 120 (pounds),” Woods said.

Cresent Crandall , a sophomore, returns to wrestle at 160 pounds and will be among the team leaders. Angel DeSantigo, who wrestled as the 113-pound backup last season, has won the 113-pound starting slot this year.

The remainder of the team is packed with inexperienced but promising wrestlers.

Freshmen Rudy Cannon and Gage Woods back up Smith at 106. Senior Joel Matteson and freshman Vincente Pinto are competing for the 120-pound slot. Freshmen Carlos Ramirez and Sebastian DeSantiago are battling for the 132-pound spot. Sophomore Josh Abbott wrestles at 138 and sophomore Timmy Moedi is penciled in at 152.

Two seniors – Garrett Hafen and Raphael DeSantiago – are wrestling at 170 pounds. Senior Marlon Felshaw and freshman Nathan Abbott are battling at 182. Sophomore Dayden Payne and junior Cristobal DeSantiago are going at 195 pounds and senior Arden Bundy competes at 220 pounds. Currently, there is no one wrestling at 145 pounds.

The vacancy in just one weight class is something new for VVHS, which often gave up four or even five weight classes in the past because the team lacked enough wrestlers to cover all the weight divisions. This good turnout provides more depth and more scoring opportunities.

Woods hopes the new wrestlers develop quickly with an unforgiving schedule awaiting them.

“We didn’t lighten up on the schedule,” he said. “We traded the Reno Tournament of Champions for the Reno-Sierra Nevada Tournament. There are more teams in the Sierra Nevada and more opportunities for us to take more guys up there. We have a bunch more junior varsity and freshmen tournaments, which is good because we have some weight where we’re three-to-four-deep, and we’re trying to get those guys more matches.”

The league and state wrestling landscape is full of potential land mines, as it is every season, but many teams took heavy graduations losses.

“A lot of teams in the league lost a lot of seniors,” Woods said. “The 1-A (division) as a whole lost a lot of seniors. Pahrump lost 11, Lowry lost eight. Everyone lost a lot of seniors, not just us. I think it will be more competitive and fun this year. I don’t think any one team runs away with it this year. It’s going to be a dogfight.”

The Bulldogs have two home matches later in the season, one with Chaparral and the other with Moapa Valley. The Dogs compete Friday and Saturday in the Green Valley Duals at Green Valley High School in Las Vegas.