Photo by Michael Sieffert
Photo by Michael Sieffert

On The Mat: Inside the Least-Known Winter Sports Team at LAHS

February 12, 2016

Though a sign on its door promises “Free Abuse” to all those who enter, the wrestling room provides a family environment to every wrestler on the team.

Led by their head coach Randy “Big Daddy” Jimenez, the members of the Los Altos wrestling team train for hours every day in this small, pungent space, doing their best to slam each other into the padded floors. What to an outsider may seem like random acts of brutality are actually carefully executed technical moves, all designed to pin opponents to the ground as quickly as possible.

So far, these intense training sessions seem to be paying off. While it may at times be overshadowed by other winter sports such as basketball and soccer, the wrestling team is 5-0 in league matches, took first place in the Albany High Tournament and is looking to be one of the most dominant teams in the area.

“As far as the El Camino League, I’m expecting to smash through everybody,” Jimenez said. “But that’s always my expectation. As a coach, if you don’t expect that, then you shouldn’t be a head coach. I just want to crush everybody, and these kids are doing what they need to do to get the job done, they make it happen.”

Jimenez has shaped the wrestling room into more than just a place to train. His wrestlers see it as a second home, where they can go when they need advice from someone they consider family. Jimenez establishes a personal relationship with each player on the team, even going to their houses to check in on them if they are injured or late for a tournament. This familial atmosphere spreads throughout the rest of the team.

unior Joey Donnelly attempts an escape. The wrestling team is off to a strong start, combining experience and youth. Photos by Michael Sieffert.
Junior Joey Donnelly attempts an escape. The wrestling team is off to a strong start, combining experience and youth. Photos by Michael Sieffert.

“This is family, it really is, we are family,” co-captain junior Gino Vega said. “[Coach Jimenez] is like a father to me.”

If there are any issues between individual players, they are sure to work it out quickly in order to keep the tight-knit family atmosphere intact.

“If we ever have a problem with one of the other wrestlers, we settle it on the mat, wrestle it out and may the best man win,” co-captain senior Jason Durana said. “And after that we forget about it, there’s no grudges or anything.”

Wrestlers earn their veteran status not by seniority, but by their ability to mentor younger teammates. The more experienced wrestlers care about helping the “green” members of the team and ensuring that everyone feels accepted enough to focus on improving their skills. Much of the team’s success can be credited to the leadership of the veteran wrestlers, but the green wrestlers have proved to be just as passionate and willing to learn the sport.

The newer wrestlers proved their willingness and ability to perform at the team’s second meet of the season, against Milpitas, in early January. Going into the final match of the day, LAHS needed one point to secure the win, putting pressure on sophomore Luis Garcia to get a pin — which he did, in just 1 minute, 15 seconds.

“It was a one-point thing, and seeing someone new go out and get it just shows that it really doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in the sport if you’re pushing, if you’re working hard enough, you’re going to get the result,” co-captain junior Joey Donnelly said.

For the team members, wrestling is seen as an “individual sport in a team environment.” While each player wrestles alone on the mat, the team atmosphere helps push each individual to bring their effort to another level. They are working not just for themselves, but also for everyone else on the team.

Although the team has great support and energy from within their own program, they wish they had more support from the rest of the school. Wrestling meets are free to watch, and often very exciting, but the stands are never as full as they are for basketball games.

“We need more support from our school, we really do,” Jason said. “We’re not too worried about it, but it’s kind of unfair how wrestling is looked down upon, and not appreciated as much as other sports.”

Whether the school actually looks down on the team or just doesn’t know much about it, the wrestling team has not allowed this lack of support to slow it down. They are taking an undefeated record into league finals, with the intent to win and secure first place in the league. The team also hopes to have some individuals qualify for CCS. The competition will be tough, but the wrestling team is ready for the challenge.

“I will put this team against everybody, and anybody, anytime, anywhere,” Jimenez said. ◊

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