The Lutheran West High School wrestling team gave its home crowd plenty to cheer about on Tuesday.
In front of a gym packed with all the students in attendance that day, the Longhorns overcame an early 12-0 deficit to defeat Columbia 54-30. As part of its comeback and eventual victory, Lutheran West recorded six pins, with the student body cheering louder and louder after each one.
“This is a great way to start the season,” Longhorns coach Dave Ressler said. “Really exciting for the kids to be able to open the season in front of their friends. They were there to win and put on a show. We don’t wrestle in front of 500 of our own fans ever so it’s a great opportunity.”
Following a pinfall loss at 106-lbs and a forfeit loss at 113-lbs, Lutheran West got on the board with a forfeit win of its own at 120-lbs. Then the pins came.
Lachlan Thomas at 126-lbs, Isaiah Alarcon (132-lbs), Joey Gentile (138-lbs) and Khaled Morales (145-lbs) rattled off four straights pins, three coming in the first period. In those matches, the Raiders scored just three total points.
“The heart of our lineup starts at 126 with Lachlan,” Ressler said. “He is nice and lean, he’s worked very strong in the offseason to get back from those injuries that he had last year. He sets the table for us.
“Khaled is (another) one of our top guys,” Ressler added. “We expect him to be a district qualifier again. He was knocking on the door of state last year.”
Following an intermission in which a Lutheran West student competed with strength and conditioning coach Dave Krieger in a pull-up competition, the Longhorns got another six points when Frank Gardner won by forfeit after Columbia’s 152-lb wrestler failed to make weight.
The Raiders won at 160-lbs when Tony Governale pinned Grady Walker with just over a minute left in the second period. Columbia still trailed 36-18 at that point.
Eighteen-consecutive points for the Longhorns in the form of a first-period pin by Donovan Palmer (170-lbs), a forfeit win by Sebastian Pacheco (182-lbs) and a first-period pin by Jake Colbert (195-lbs) put Lutheran West up 54-18 and squashed any comeback chances the Raiders had.
Palmer, who set the school record in pins last season (34) is hoping to have a similarly successful season this year and make some noise in the state tournament.
“I just (had) to go out there and wrestle like myself. Just go try and rip the other kids head off,” Palmer said. “(I’m hoping for) state placement or better. State placement for sure is my main goal, state championship would be amazing.”
Columbia added 12 more points in the final two matches when Hunter Smith won the 220-lb contest with a second-period pin and the Raiders heavyweight Eli Caraballo won via forfeit, but the team couldn’t get any closer than 54-30.
As a team dealing with injuries and inexperience, Columbia coach Dan Juliani said once his team is healthy, it will hopefully look much different than it does now.
“Once we get back at full-strength, we’re looking at changing up how we do things,” Juliani said. “We’re not training for December, we’re not training for January, we’re training for February. A lot of what we’ve been doing is still working the basics. I saw a lot of our guys doing things that we’ve been working on which is a good sign.”
Perhaps the biggest cheer of the night from the Lutheran West crowd came immediately after the varsity match. Junior Allyssa Pirro came out for the first of two junior varsity matches to a thunderous ovation. When she finished her first-period pin over Adrian Vives, the Longhorns’ gym was deafening.
“(The crowd) definitely fuels you a little bit,” Palmer said. “Especially after you get that takedown and you hear everybody go wild. Especially for Allyssa’s match. That was insane when she walked out.”
The Longhorns don’t get much time to celebrate the win as they head to the North Coast Classic on Friday and Saturday, which Ressler considers the team’s “second-toughest tournament” of the season.
“We’re going to use what we did today to keep that momentum going the next two days,” Ressler said. “(The North Coast Classic) is really a test for our varsity kids to see where they stack. We’re going to try to take this momentum into Friday.”
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