Last year when he took over the Sonoma Valley High wrestling Dragons, Coach Nico Saldana said he wanted to grow the program.

So far, Saldana’s efforts seem to be paying off. This year Saldana has 28 on the wrestling team compared with 19 last year.

“The kids sell the program to their friends,” he said. “All the freshmen from last year returned. We’re building the program by retention.”

The team lost two wrestlers who qualified for the North Coast Section Meet to graduation and another – Ryan Sherwood – to a shoulder injury he suffered in football. But the team has a number of returnees including six who also qualified for NCS last year.

Junior Tyler Winslow, who went to NCS as a freshman and a sophomore, returns. “Tyler’s put on about 25 pounds, so he’ll be wrestling at 195,” Saldana said. “I expect him to have a good season.”

Other NCS qualifiers who return include junior Macklin Liss who will be wrestling at the 130s, sophomore Ean Schiffman (126), senior Dean Dunham (185/195/220), senior Nick Biaggi (170) and junior Gianni Palacio (220/heavyweight).

Other returnees include senior Mario Coronado (184), and senior Henry Sazuma Darnell (184), sophomore Zander Casias (134) and sophomore Hank Schoeningh (160). Senior Valintino Battaglini who wrestled as a sophomore, but not last year, will be the heavyweight.

While the team has more wrestlers, they’re still short in some of the light divisions. “We have an abundance of middleweights,” Saldana said. “We’ve got only one wrestling at 106 and nobody at 114.”

“We’re strong in the upper weights (154 and up),” he continued. “Our middleweights don’t have a lot of experience, but they’ll develop.”

With 28 bodies, the Dragons will have the luxury of having a junior varsity team this year. “This allows them to develop their skills on the JV level instead of having to face varsity wrestlers,” he added.

The team has a large group of freshmen, most of whom have wrestled in middle school including Lawson Lee (152), Grayson Geldert (138) and Wyatt Pagh (106).

Saldana has plenty of help with assistant coaches Scooter McLean and Elijah Kuhn along with alumni Dustin Pappas and Jordan Winslow.

The wrestlers hit the mat for the first time next Saturday, Dec. 9, at the San Marin tournament. “It’s a good tune-up tournament,” Saldana said.