Wrestling on the rise in Truckee | SierraSun.com

Wrestling on the rise in Truckee

In 2013, the face of Truckee wrestling — a man that brought the program three league championships, five individual state champions, and 64 state medal winners during a 34-year run as the team's head coach — called it a career.

After Ron Curtis stepped down as coach, the program shrank to just one wrestler the following season, then two at the start of the year after, and went on to lose both those wrestlers by the end of that 2014-15 season.

After the season's conclusion, Truckee High School teacher Jim Bennett applied for the job. As the junior varsity football coach, Bennett was in a unique position to convince students to wrestle, and along with fellow coach Mick Daly were able to recruit roughly a dozen wrestlers to the team's roster for the following year.

Truckee has slowly worked to add more wrestlers to the team since that time, pulling from the local youth squads to build the roster's numbers.

This season the Wolverines boasted nearly 30 wrestlers, which included a talented group of underclassmen that, in the coming years, will be looking to bring the program its first state qualifier in three seasons.

With a roster heavy on underclassmen and inexperienced grapplers, the Wolverines primarily competed in junior varsity tournaments this season. The squad also hosted a 10-team tournament on Dec. 22. The team closed out their season with a tournament in Ukiah, Calif., on Feb. 3 at the Redwood Empire Classic junior varsity meet. Freshmen James Atkinson (106 pounds) and Micah Ivens (145 pounds) each capped off solid seasons with first-place finishes at the tournament.

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Truckee will graduate seniors Andrew Parkhurst, Reed Belardi, Matt Lantz, Hannah Maciel and Thomas Daly.

Lakers mats and community support

Before the season, the Wolverines wrestlers didn't even have the distinction of wrestling on a home mat.

The squad had been using the old North Tahoe Lakers mat with its nave blue colors until, according to Bennett, the Parasol Tahoe Community Foundation stepped in with a $2,000 donation to help toward the $6,400 purchase of the team's new crimson and black mat.

The support from the Parasol Tahoe Community Foundation is the latest in an outpouring of help Truckee's wrestling teams have received of late.

"Groups like the Optimists, the Lions Club, the Rotary, Martis Camp, Lahontan, as well as local businesses and individuals have helped greatly in reviving this sport in Truckee," said Bennett in a statement. "The support of the community has been amazing and because of that, the future is very promising."

Youth Revival

A huge part of the Truckee wrestling program's revival has been due to a strong youth program at Alder Creek Middle School. Last season, the team grew to 26 wrestlers, including six girls — something Bennett said has been a trend for wrestling programs across the nation. The team is set to compete at regionals later in March.

Truckee youngsters are hitting the mats even before middle school through the Truckee-Donner Recreation and Park District. This season marked the third year of youth wrestling with children kindergarten through fifth grade competing and putting wrestlers atop the podium in consistent fashion during weekend tournaments.

Many wrestlers have competed all three years for the youth team, according to Bennett, giving them more experience than most of the high school team from this past season. The squad also has upped their numbers to 17 wrestlers, and has had a much more consistent presence on the local wrestling scene.

Part of the team's improvement has been due to the addition of Coach Aaron Svitana, who moved to the area from Pennsylvania last year with his family, which includes two of the team's top wrestlers Joseph Svitana and Sammy Svitana. Their father is a lifelong grappler and brings experience to the team as a former Division I collegiate wrestler.

A late start to last season and winter snowstorms led to disorganization and several wrestlers participating in one tournament during 2016-17. The disorder prompted the Truckee coaches to move the team's first practices of the 2017-18 season up a month from December to November.

"We looked at last year and said we got started way too late," Svitana said. "All of these other clubs are starting in November, and so we did something similar."

The team practiced twice a week leading up to Truckee High's home meet on Dec. 22. Wrestlers showed up the night before for team pictures, and upon noticing the excitement on several youngsters' faces over seeing the high school mats rolled out in Truckee's gymnasium, Svitana said the team decided to hold its own mini tournament.

Taking advantage of the excitement over the scrimmage, he asked afterward which wrestlers would be interested in competing a few weeks later in a Sierra Wrestling Association meet.

"All of a sudden a bunch of parents and kids raised their hands," Svitana said. "We went to that first tournament and took maybe eight or nine kids and about six of them ended up placing, and then it just snowballed from there throughout the course of the year."

From there, the team continued to impress at local and regional tournaments. Truckee most recently wrestled at the High Desert Regional Challenge in Winnemucca, Nev., on Saturday, Feb. 17, and had three wrestlers capture first place. Sammy Svitana won the bantamweight 43-pound bracket with two major decisions and a win by fall. Hank McDaniels took first place in the intermediate rookies 68- 74-pound division with two wins by fall. Lucas Scapini also won for the team in the novice rookies 57- 61-pound division. Joseph Svitana finished as a runner-up for Truckee in the rookies 39- 53-pound division. Tanner Schmidig also competed for the team.

A handful of wrestlers will participate in this weekend's Rumble in Reno at the Reno-Sparks Livestock Events Center.

With the season winding down, Truckee's three wrestling programs are already looking forward to more growth and greater results in 2018-19.

"We now have the infrastructure, the mats, and the equipment we needed in place for this sport to make great leaps and bound," Bennett said. "There is a buzz around town and the goal is to keep expanding every year on the foundations that have been laid. All three age groups will start wrestling again next winter. The kids' club and high school teams will start in November and the ACMS team will start in January."

For more information contact Jim Bennett at Truckee High School at jbennett@ttusd.org or 916-517-2323.

Staff writer Justin Scacco can be reached at 530-550-2643 or jscacco@sierrasun.com.