The Del Norte boys and girls wrestling teams are ready to kick off their respective seasons today at 9 a.m. at the Warriors’ only home meet of the season — the Battle at the Border in Crescent City.

“Every year we are excited for the first tournament of the year because the kids have been working hard for three weeks, and they are excited to go out there and compete. It kind of puts all of the practice into motion,” said Del Norte head coach Clinton Schaad. “This year we started a week earlier than normal because the schedule was moved. That has given us an extra week of practice, which is good for us, but again it makes these kids a little more excited to get on the mat.”

This winter there is twice the excitement surrounding Del Norte wrestling as the varsity team, previously a coed squad made up primarily of male wrestlers, has split into two teams with a boys and a girls squad for the 2018–19 season.

Del Norte’s home wrestling tournament will mirror the expansion of the program with a larger Battle at the Border as well. For the first time ever the tournament will include completely separate tournament brackets for boys and for girls.

“I think it will add overall excitement,” Schaad said of adding in a standalone girls tournament. “Historically at our tournament we have run a coed bracket — any girl from a team was allowed to wrestle, but if they didn’t want to they didn’t have to. Having a standalone girls tournament makes them more competitive with each other. Not that we haven’t had girls over the years that have been able to beat the boys, and did great — but overall I think it will add a competitive nature to the tournament.”

But from a spectator’s prospective, this year’s Battle at the Border will be largely similar to past years.

“It is going to be just the same for people who are used to coming to a boys tournament,” Schaad said. “When you go to a basketball game there is no difference between boys and girls basketball — that is the whole idea, that you aren’t going to see a difference. It is the same competitive nature, and if you are watching Del Norte wrestlers you will see the same style of technique, and what is happening, whether they are male or female.”

In all, Schaad said he is expecting to have 12 teams from around Northern California and Southern Oregon in attendance for both tournaments.

“We have a solid number of teams coming,” Schaad said. “I’m excited to see our returners on the boys side compete. I am expecting some of the veterans to maybe do a little bit better than last year, and then the newcomers we will get to see where they are at. As far as the girls team, I am really excited to see them get out on the mat. They have been working hard for four weeks now, and I think they are kind of getting antsy. We have been teaching them a lot of stuff, and they get to go against each other in practice, but it isn’t the same thing as going out and having a live competition.”

Schaad said that first real mat experience on Saturday will be a big boost to the newcomers on the team — male or female.

“They believe in what we have been telling them, showing them and teaching them,” Schaad said. “But as soon as they get into some actual competition it is going to sink in, and I think it is really going to help them out.”

There will likely still be more total boys competing at the Battle at the Border this year than girls, but Schaad said there will be at least three full or mostly girls teams, including Del Norte, Eureka and Grants Pass. Many of the other schools are also expected to bring a few female wrestlers, which should help fill out the brackets nicely.

“We could have some pretty full brackets, and we could have some that are pretty light,” Schaad said. “Just like in the boys tournament, this time of year the 106 pound weight class doesn’t get filled quite this early in the season. It will be interesting to see how it works out.”

Although Schaad said that not all brackets will be equally difficult, especially this early in the season before wrestlers are worried too much about their weight, there is enough talent expected at the tournament that a first place finish in any bracket is a respectable accomplishment.

“It has always been a good tournament and there are always some tough kids,” Schaad said. “Every weight class is different. Some are going to be deeper than others, but there won’t be a single weight class that is just wide open. In order to win the tournament you will have to beat somebody tough.”

While the Battle at the Border has added a girls tournament, it has also added 50 percent more mats for the competition this year to help things run as smoothly as possible.

“We are adding two extra mats to the tournament, which is probably overkill, but I don’t know exactly what to expect yet,” Schaad said. “So we are going from four mats to six mats, which is a pretty big jump. We will run three mats in the small gym, two in the big gym, and then one in the multipurpose room. The plan is to run those six mats with boys and girls — it doesn’t matter if you are male or female, you could wrestle on any one of those six mats.”

Schaad said they will eliminate the mats from use as needed, starting at around midday, until the finals. Schaad said both the boys finals and the girls finals will be run simultaneously in Thunen Gym when they reach that stage.

The expanded tournament has certainly demanded a little extra preparation leading up to the season opening tournament this year. Schaad said the wrestling program has recently gotten back its ace organizer, who has been able to work out the details.

“Jamie Forkner is back this year helping us out. She missed last year because she had some stuff to take care of, but she has been running this tournament as the brains of it for 20 years or more,” Schaad said. “She said she can run two tournaments at once, so she is going to go for it.”

Although this will be the Warriors’ first live wrestling competition of the season, it is also Del Norte’s last time wrestling at home in 2018. Del Norte’s only other home wrestling events will be a pair of Humboldt-Del Norte League dual meets in January.

“I know there will be a lot of people showing up to watch wrestling. We want them to come out, watch Del Norte wrestling and support the boys and girls,” Schaad said. “We are going to try to go as fast as we can to get them out of here in time to go to that football game because I know that is high on people’s list.”

Wrestling is scheduled to kick off at 9 a.m. and continue until each of the brackets is completed. The tournament is expected to conclude with plenty of time remaining before the Del Norte football team hosts Fortuna in a North Coast Section Division IV semifinal game at 7 p.m. at Mike Whalen Field.

Reach Michael Zogg at mzogg@triplicate.com .

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