The Del Norte boys wrestling team was rock solid all day long as the Warriors added a Humboldt-Del Norte tournament championship to its dual title on Saturday at the HDN Wrestling Championships in Eureka.
The Warriors had wrestlers in 13 of the 14 weightclasses and put 10 grapplers into the finals fishing with six individual champions and four runners up. Del Norte also had two wrestlers take third place in their brackets to earn a medal, bringing the Warriors automatic qualifiers for the NCS Tournament up to 12.
Last year Del Norte finished as the runner up to Fortuna by 3.5 points at the HDN Championships and the Warriors and Huskies have been the favorites to challenge for the league championship all season long. On Saturday the Warriors put a little space between themselves and Fortuna with 217.5 team points to top the second place Huskies by 21.5 points.
“The boys were able to put together a league title team — last year it just eluded us,” said Del Norte head coach Clinton Schaad. “We knew we had a special group of kids this year. I told them early on that they have the potential to bring home banners, but it is going to be up to them. They rallied with each other and they have worked really hard. We have had our ups and downs but all year long we have learned from our mistakes and kept practicing. We brought 13 wrestlers down here, put 10 in the finals and had two third place and a fourth place. It was a great job by them.”
In addition to scoring the most team points, Del Norte also crowned the most HDN champions in Eureka as Chaz Harrison (113), Cruz Cerros (120), Skyler Moore (126), Sherrik Cron (132) Tanner Stancliff (152) and Braydon Henderson earned white stars with first place finishes in their respective brackets.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day for the Warriors was Cron, a senior wrestler who has struggled to crack the varsity lineup for most of the season.
“Sherrik has had quite the career for us. I have been coaching him since fifth or sixth grade. He was stuck all year behind either Skyler or Wyatt Schneck but he just kept working hard and finding his pace,” Schaad said. “He looked fantastic today, and pinned his way through the HDN tournament. He went from being JV in the Ukiah Tournament to being a league champion two weeks later.”
Cron said he tried not to focus too much on where he was in Del Norte’s lineup throughout the season.
“It doesn’t matter to me whether I am JV or varsity, I’m still going to go out there and wrestle my hardest no matter if the kid is a 10-time state champion or if its the first match of his life,” Cron said. “Honestly, you go out there, wrestle, leave it all on the mat and it doesn’t really matter at that point. The fact that my teammates were ahead of me in the lineup at certain points in the year doesn’t bother me. They are doing good just like I am doing good. Just because they are doing better doesn’t mean I should be envious or any of that. I just focused on improving myself an not worrying about where I am at.”
Although Cron has been stuck behind two of Del Norte’s top wrestlers in the lineup all season, the Del Norte senior has been coming on strongly in recent weeks. Cron was on a nine-match winning streak prior to the NCS Duals last weekend, when he went 2-1 against some stellar competition.
“I’m just satisfied with the fact that I have came to this point because I started out with a rough beginning to the year,” Cron said. “I’ve taken what seems to be a huge leap to my coaches in my style and how well I have been doing recently. But what seems to be a huge step is really just a bunch of baby steps that everyone on the team has been taking throughout the year.
“I’ve been wrestling for a long time — this is about my eighth year — I’m just glad that it is all coming to an end like this and I got to finish it out with a big fat win in the HDNs.”
Fellow senior Braydon Henderson was also able to wrap up his wrestling career with his first HDN championship after finishing as the runner up in his sophomore year.
“Everything went to plan. I went out and beat the Eureka kid. He wasn’t supposed to be a challenge and he really wasn’t,” Henderson said. “The kid from Fortuna was a good match, he always has been. In the second round I got a couple near fall points and got ahead by five. I locked hands once, and my coach told me to put him in neutral and then he had to come to me. When he came to me I just scored and scored and scored and I put him in neutral every time. After that it was just a head game for him and a fun time for me.”
Henderson went on to win his finals match with a 14-7 decision.
“Braydon has kind of been on a mission all year, and has been wrestling better at every tournament,” Schaad said. “He is a very vocal leader in our room, and he is very stern.”
Harrison was also dominant, wrestling in the 113 pound bracket on his way to his first HDN white star.
“Chaz obviously had a great day — he pinned everybody that he wrestled and kind of walked through the finals,” Schaad said. “He is having a good season and he is only a sophomore. We are really excited for Chaz. He was the runner up last year, but he won it this year.”
Junior Cruz Cerros also won his first league championship in one of the closest in the finals. Cerros started the day with a win by forfeit and came through for a 3-1 decision in the finals on the strength of a late takedown with just 15 seconds remaining in the third period.
“What a fantastic young man, and a guy that has worked hard all year long,” Schaad said. “Last year he was in our varsity lineup and he got beat out by Chaz. This year he maintained his spot all year and had a very competitive tournament today and ended up sneaking out that win by two points in the finals with short time left. We are super excited for Cruz, and he is only a junior so he will be coming back next year.”
It was also the first white star for Stancliff, who picked up a 7-3 decision in the semifinals before grabbing a win by fall in 2:50 to secure the 152 pound championship.
“Tanner has been fighting injuries and has had kind of a bum knee all year,” Schaad said. “He looked great today. He was the No. 1 seed coming in and he went 3-0 and pinned everybody on his way through.”
It was the second HDN championship in a row for Moore, who is the only wrestler on the team with multiple white stars in wrestling. Although the Del Norte junior was a heavy favorite to win his 126 pound weight class, Moore had a few unexpected challenges to overcome this week in order to achieve that.
“Skyler has had a horrible week,” Schaad said. “He had strep throat, he got the flue, and he is still sick right now and is on antibiotics. He was able to climb the mountain and make weight, which was really hard for him to do when you don’t feel good. He had a great day today though and pinned everybody. In the finals he actually pinned a two-time defending league champion out of Hoopa. We are really proud of Skyler.”
Del Norte also had four wrestlers finish in second place on Friday including a pair of seniors and a pair of freshman.
Wyatt Schneck started the day out strong with a pair of pins in the first minute to reach the finals of the 138 pound bracket, but he was edged out 18-15 in the finals by Fortuna’s Andrew Hansen.
“Wyatt Schneck has been a wonderful guy to coach for the last four years,” Schaad said. “He is a returning league champion and today he looked good. He just had a rough finals match against a good wrestler from Fortuna. This season we have pinned him three times, but today it just didn’t go our way. I know he is really upset about it, because he is such a great competitor. We will get over it though. We will keep working hard and we are hoping to make the podium at the section tournament with him.”
Senior Justin Goudelock was similarly dominate in his run to the finals with a pin in 1:24 to start the day, followed by an 18-2 technical fall in the semifinals. Goudelock ran into one of Fortuna’s top wrestlers, Joey Ponets, in the finals and lost by a narrow 4-3 decision.
“Justin is a great kid, and one of our team leaders,” Schaad said. “He has tournament titles under his belt and has been a most outstanding wrestler. He just couldn’t quite overcome that hurdle today.”
Brandon Jones and Poy Aguilar also wrestled well on their way to second place finishes in their freshman seasons. Both Jones (195 pounds) and Aguilar (285) were wrestling in the upper weights.
“Jones had a good day and was able to win by fall over a kid from Eureka that pinned him in the dual meet,” Schaad said. “He had a tough match against a senior from McKinleyville, but for a freshman to do that well in the upper weight was really good.”
Aguilar was not only wrestling against older athletes, he was also giving up a ton of size in the heavyweight bracket. Aguilar has been wrestling at 220 pound for most of the season, where he is actually a little on the small side, weighing in at 198 pounds on Saturday.
“He was giving up an enormous amount of size in every match,” Schaad said. “He was probably 60 or 70 pounds smaller than his opponent on average. I’m super proud of him to be able to come out and compete, and to be excited about competing.”
Del Norte’s Kurtis Turner and Andre Aflague both finished in third place in Eureka.
All 12 of the Warriors who finished in the top three automatically qualify to advance to the North Coast Section Championships next weekend. Nolan Ridgely was the only wrestler from Del Norte who wasn’t able to qualify. Ridgely will be the HDNs first alternate at 145 pounds after finishing in fourth place on Saturday.
“It has been a really fun and exciting year, but it is not over,” Schaad said. “We are undefeated two years in a row in duals, we brought home the first ever NCS dual meet banner by making the finals, and now we bring home a league title. We don’t want to settle with a league title though, we are going to keep working, head south, and try to bring home some section hardware.”
The North Coast Section Championships will kick off on Friday at James Logan High School. Del Norte will have one of its largest groups ever competing in the section tournament, with a dozen Warriors automatically qualifying.
“It will be a lot more support compared to previous years,” said Henderson, who wrestled in the NCS tournament as a sophomore. “Usually we are only taking three or four wrestlers down there and this time it is almost the entire team. Everybody has each other’s backs and we are all making sure we are making weight. It will be a little bit easier knowing that I can support them and they can support me.”