By Phil Dailey
It's been a long time since the La Jolla High School wrestling team captured a championship of any kind. That changed this season as the Vikings won the Western League title and now set their sights on even a bigger prize.
At the start of the season, coaches Ryan Lindenblatt and Ryan Lennard knew this team had a chance to be good given the return of several quality wrestlers.
However, getting the wrestling program back on track has taken a bit of work.
"We're trying to teach the freshmen, teach the parents and trying to educate the community as well as teaching our wrestlers how to compete in the sport," said Lindenblatt, now in his fifth year with the team.
It wasn't that long ago when the Vikings were simply unable to get many wrestlers to come out for the sport and had high turnover with the coaching staff. Now with experienced coaches in place, the wrestling team at La Jolla is starting to get noticed.
"So far we are league champions," senior Kirk Lee said. "As a team we have been working toward this. Since my freshman year were practicing with eight kids in the room. It's amazing to see how much the program has grown and how much we have all grown as a team together."
The attitude change, hard work and good chemistry among the wrestlers has become the recipe for success. Along with the team title this group also boast four individual league champs in Lee (140 pounds), senior Quinn Strauser (152), junior Peter Donchev (135) and Matthew Vasquez (160).
For Vasquez, being around a winning program has not been new.
"It's different, but I see a lot of potential here," the sophomore said. "I come from such a big program and I haven't really seen the La Jolla wrestling name out there. I wasn't expecting too much but ever since I moved here we have been progressing."
Vasquez has been wrestling for the past 10 years, the majority of which started when he was living in Brawley.
But along with his experience, and the experience of some of the others who started as freshman a few years ago, the team is headed in the right direction.
"Last year we had a lot of second year wrestler who were just really coming into their prime," Strauser said. "There's a lot of talent on this team." It's starting to show.
This weekend the Vikings host the City Conference Tournament. After that, the team will head to the CIF Tournament held at Olympian High School on Feb 19. Individuals who place in the top four at CIF advance to Masters. From there, the top three placers go to the state tournament which is March 4-5 in Bakersfield.