Some wrestling teams start their summer practices with lifting in their school weight room to get physically stronger. Some start by focusing on their craft on the mats, practicing the form of takedowns and grapples to get technically stronger. Others start by running laps on the track, building their endurance and getting mentally stronger. For Redwood varsity team captains Michael Fitzsimmons and Jaden Ramos, along with fellow varsity wrestler Andrew Ji, their summer practices started over 500 miles away at the J Robinson 14-Day Intensive Camp in Monmouth, Oregon, which combined all three strengths into one.
“It was the hardest thing I have done in my whole life,” Ramos, a three-year member of the varsity team, said. “It was basically an army boot camp, but instead of learning how to shoot your gun, it was learning how to wrestle.”
Although the program was incredibly grueling, according to Ramos, he believes that he and his teammates now have a leg up on their competition.
“We experienced a different level of intensity and working out so, as wrestlers, we know that we can push ourselves even further. If I ever get tired, I think back to the camp and think ‘Hey, I was extremely tired here, so I can do this.’ We proved to ourselves that we can do something that we didn’t think we were capable of, which is going to help us on and off the mat,” Ramos said.
While the trio may have a leg up on some of their competitors, the rest of the Redwood team is young and inexperienced. Both team captains, Fitzsimmons and Ramos, are juniors, and the team has only one senior on the roster, Michael Acquistapace. Along with their lack of seniority, Redwood graduated their leading wrestler from the year before, Spencer Dow, who was ranked in the top 20 of California wrestlers last season and won two individual MCAL titles in a row. Despite their low number of seniors and a key loss, head coach Lochlan McHale believes that Dow’s leadership and enthusiasm has rubbed off on the underclassmen.
“Spencer was not only a great wrestler, but a great captain with how he invested time into the program and into the younger kids. Each year we want to get better and better, and the only way to do that is for the older guys to train our younger guys, and Spencer did a great job of that,” McHale said.
With Dow at the helm, Redwood won three consecutive MCAL titles before placing third in last year’s standings. Despite their local success, McHale says his team is built for bigger things than just the league championship.
“My goal every year is to build a state tournament team, not so much a league team. Because there’s no divisions in wrestling, the state meets are the forty best wrestlers at that weight class competing for the state title. In league, if you don’t have all of the weight classes filled, you’re forfeiting points. Although wrestling is a team sport, I’m working to make the best individual wrestlers that I can,” McHale said.
Coach Lochlan McHale speaks to his team during practice before demonstration a move with a wrestler. Under McHale, Redwood has dominated MCAL, winning pennants in two of the last three years.
McHale believes that by molding his wrestlers, regardless of weight class, into the best tournament team that they can be, then the team should succeed in league as well. Although the team did not win the pennant, their last season was another record setter as they brought home four team tournament trophies, the most in a single season in Redwood history, including the program’s first-ever first place team tournament trophy. Even in his absence, Dow expects similar results for this years team.
“At Redwood, we’ve had a culture of winning for the past couple of years, and from what I’ve seen, there’s no reason that that shouldn't continue with this team,” Dow said of his former teammates.
Along with the hard work and past success that this year’s contingency has experienced, the team has high ambitions for this upcoming season.
“As a team, we want to gain a top 20 NCS finish, something that we’ve never done as a program, and we have a handful of kids that will make a run at state this year,” McHale said. “Our kids have some lofty goals, but they’ve put in the hard work, and now it’s time for them to go out and achieve them.”