After coming tantalizingly close to an overall Humboldt-Del Norte League team championship at the HDN Finals last winter, the Del Norte boys wrestling team is back and hoping to complete the climb to the league’s summit this season.

“I think their goal is 100 percent set to be the league champion not only in duals but the overall champions at the HDN Finals — that is where their minds are at,” said Del Norte head coach Clinton Schaad of the Warrior boys. “We also want to bring home that NCS dual meet banner. Time will tell, but I think those are our big three goals for the year.”

Last season Del Norte and Fortuna were neck and neck all season long in the race to be the top team in the HDN. Del Norte edged out Fortuna by a score of 36-35 for the HDN dual team championship, but the Warriors finished 3.5 team points behind the Huskies at the HDN Finals to finish second in the tournament team standings.

“Last year it came down to a pretty close title run where the whole tournament came down to one match — one match anywhere and we had it,” Schaad said. “We were so close last year to winning a league title so hopefully this year we can do it. Last year we did go undefeated in duals, which was a big deal for us.”

Del Norte lost two of their HDN high five league champions to graduation after last year, but the rest of the Warriors starters are back this season. That includes returning HDN League champions Blake Allen, Wyatt Schneck, and Skyler Moore.

Moore also placed seventh overall in the NCS Championship Tournament last season.

“We were pretty close (to a league championship) last year, so I think we just need to keep our head on straight and grind,” Schneck said. “It takes a lot of heart. I think that is the most important thing in this sport. You definitely need to get your heart into it and if you have a team that has a good heart I don’t think we will have a problem getting the league title. I think it could be a pretty good year for us. We have a lot of talent — and a lot of potential talent — in the room with us.”

Although Del Norte feels good about its chances in the league this season, Fortuna is also expected to be a formidable force in the HDN again this year.

“I think Fortuna is going to be tough again,” Schaad said. “I think they only lost two wrestlers just like us so they are going to be a really good team again.”

Schaad said the Warrior boys team is pretty big again this year, with 30 members still on the team after the first three weeks of practice. Most of those wrestlers are returning from last season.

“You can’t really say that the other kids are brand new either because we have two freshmen that are coming up from the youth program that I have been coaching for a while,” Schaad said. “So we have some experience coming in. I think we really only have four or five brand new kids and they are doing great.”

Although a few of the boys on the team don’t have previous wrestling experience, Allen said it has been relatively easy to get them up to speed so far this winter.

“With so many kids returning it has been a lot easier to help out the kids that don’t know what they are doing,” Allen said. “It is less one-on-one time with the coach. We are working a lot teammate-to-teammate, so the coaches have more time to speak to the group.”

Through the first three weeks of practice, Schaad said he thinks this group of boys has a chance to get off to as good of a start to the season as the Warriors have had since he has been coaching.

“I’ve been coaching wrestling since the 2001–02 season — so that is 17 years — and this is by far the most mat ready group I have come across in the first week,” he said. “We have so many returners and they are working hard. Some of the kids went and worked out in the offseason at the Warrior MMA gym and wrestled there and it shows. They are already in shape and looking really impressive.

“I think that is attributed to just being veterans and having a veteran mentality. These kids worked hard last year, they had a lot of fun with each other, and they have that coming in again this year. They have a great attitude, they are not scared to work hard, and they enjoy the sport. So for them they have kind of had to wait to play. We are getting good leadership from our four seniors and even some of the juniors to help set the tone for the room.”

In addition to the Warriors’ three returning White Star winners, Del Norte also has HDN runner up Justin Goudelock and HDN third-place finisher Chaz Harrison back in the lineup this season. Tanner Stancliff also qualified for the NCS Tournament last year after placing fourth in the HDN Tournament.

Senior Braydon Henderson sat out the wrestling season last year but was an HDN runner up in 2017 as a sophomore.

Last season Del Norte finished with two section placers at the NCS Championships for the first time in several years. Schaad said he believes this team has similar and perhaps even greater potential.

“They know that this program has a good shot at winning the league title, and they know that the kids they are working out with have a good chance of not only winning a league title, but being section placers — maybe we can even get a few to the state tournament this year,” Schaad said. “I think we have a couple kids —I don’t know how many yet, time will tell — that will be in the hunt to maybe make that run.”

Although Del Norte has a lot of successful wrestlers in its lineup, most of the Warriors’ expected top performers are bunched up in the lower weights and middle weights.

“We have a lot of tough dudes, and a lot of good talent, but it is all kind of concentrated into one small area,” Schneck said. “We have to kind of spread out, which is kind of hard to do in high school.”

That likely means that wrestlers won’t have a lot of wiggle room when it comes to weight come season’s end.

“Everybody needs to stay healthy, and everybody needs to make weight this year,” Allen said. “We had a couple kids miss weight last year and we ended up losing the league by just a couple points.”

While each wrestler’s exact weight will become increasingly important later in the year, Schaad said it is still much too early to start paying attention to all of that.

“They have been bugging me to get on the scale for the last couple weeks but I won’t let them do it because I don’t care what they weigh,” Schaad said. “We don’t need to worry about that. Let’s just have some fun, let’s get in shape and wrestle.”

With November quickly winding down, the Warriors’ wait to get back on the mat for competitive matches is nearly over. Del Norte will open up its season on Dec. 1 with its annual Battle at the Border tournament in Crescent City.

“I hope that everybody comes out, we compete well, we wrestle hard, and we just show people what Del Norte has to offer this year,” Allen said. “I think we have a lot to bring to the table.”

Reach Michael Zogg at mzogg@triplicate.com .

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