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Sonoma Valley wrestlers prove they ‘belong,’ send 7 to NCS

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The Vine Valley Athletic League held its first-ever wrestling tournament last weekend in Napa and, as Coach Nico Saldana said, “The Sonoma Valley High grapplers proved they belonged in the new league.”

The tournament, held at Napa High, was the first time the new Vine Valley Athletic League brought its seven wrestling teams together, and the competition was as expected “a significant jump from previous years,” said Saldana. Of the 10 SVHS Varsity wrestlers that competed, seven qualified for the next step in the awards season, next weekend’s North Coast Section wrestling championship, by placing in the top three in VVAL, and two others received an at-large bid.

Two of those Dragons, Tyler Winslow and Hank Schoeningh, won the championship in their weight class.

As a team, Sonoma Valley High placed fourth. Petaluma won the VVAL title with 205 points on the day. The Trojans were followed by Casa Grande (194), Napa (148), and Sonoma (132), with Vintage (116), American Canyon (107.5) and Justin-Siena (54) wrapping up the bottom tier.

“The team wrestled great, including the junior varsity who are key in the growth in the overall program,” said Saldana. “Every single wrestler displayed technique learned in the room, and heart that can only come from within.”

As expected, one first-place finisher for the Dragons was senior Tyler Winslow, at 222 pounds. Winslow had his eyes on his fourth league title – he took tops in the old SCL three times, and this would be his first in the new VVAL, if he could overcome whatever obstacles fate threw his way.

Before the tournament began, one of those obstacles presented itself: During drills with coach Sam Denning, Winslow broke his nose. The coaches had to scramble and find him a face mask that he could use for the tournament that would both meet league rules and protect his busted beak.

Even so, Winslow proved too much for his competition, taking a forfeit in the first round, taking down American Canyon’s Glen Garduce in the semis and pinning Vintage High’s Dominic Smith in 1:01 for the championship.

The Dragons’ other first came in the 184 weight class. Junior Hank Schoeningh came in as the third seed, and “proved the lessons of the season were not lost him,” as Saldana said. In the semi-finals, he defeated Casa Grande’s Caleb Wood, who had beaten him twice during the season. The match went to overtime, when Schoeningh secured the win “with a beautiful double-leg takedown.”

In the finals, Schoeningh grappled with Napa’s Chase LaRue who had likewise defeated him in their dual meet. Schoeningh did not wait around, securing the fall in the second period to win his first league championship.

Sam Weisiger was the “bracket-buster” of the 197 weight class, said Saldana. He came in as the fifth seed, beat the fourth seed, lost to first seed and eventual weight champion Justin Naugle, then rattled off two more wins to place third. “This is only Weisiger’s second year of wrestling and he took up the challenge of competition up from his weight class – he usually weighs in at 184 – and proved to be one of the best 197 pounders in the VVAL.”

Macklyn Liss (134) wrestled well considering he was still recovering from his bout with pneumonia, falling in the finals to American Canyon’s Aaron Villa Carlos for a second place.

Zander Casillas proved he belonged in the varsity line up by placing third in a competitive weight class (147), losing to Napa’s Manuel Infante in the semis.

Lawson Lee came in as the 4th seed and one-upped it by placing 3rd, losing only to the top-ranked wrestler in the NCS, Conor Peterson of Petaluma.

As well as Winslow, Weisiger, Schoeningh, Liss, Casillas, Lee and Ryan Sherwood, who finished third at 162, at-large competitors at next weekend’s NCS tournament could include Daniel Gallo (172) and Ean Schiffman (128). Whatever the final number, Sonoma Valley has proven they belong.

The NCS tournament will be held Feb. 15-16 in Union City, at James Logan High.