Surprise Finish

For the last five seasons, Calvary Chapel wrestling Coach John Azevedo had been positive about his team's outlook.

Azevedo's glowing predictions were usually based on an Eagle team that seemed to have one, two or even three state champions returning to the lineup. In many cases, there were transfers who would fill a vacant spot on the roster.

But the 1997-98 wrestling season was different. So different, that many coaches were hopeful that Calvary Chapel's domination might be over.

Even Azevedo wasn't sure about his team's chances. With no returning state champions in the lineup, a state finalist ineligible to wrestle, and a marginal transfer, Azevedo had doubts that his team could defend its title.

Unlike past seasons, Calvary Chapel struggled at first. Temecula Valley, which was flexing its muscles in Riverside County, was pointing the finger at the Eagles, taunting them and screaming, "We want Calvary Chapel." And members of Santa Ana's team, which was beaten badly the year before, were even wondering if their team had a chance against the state champions.

But the Eagles persevered. They met every challenge head on. They beat Temecula Valley. They also beat Santa Ana in a barnburner that had the entire Calvary Chapel crowd on its feet. For Azevedo, the narrow victories were as important as the blowouts.

As the season progressed, Calvary Chapel started to jell. The Eagles won the Division I dual meet and individual championships. They qualified 11 wrestlers to Masters, with seven advancing to state.

At the state championships in Stockton, there were many in the stands and on the mats who thought the Eagles were going to go belly up. On paper, it appeared there was no way the Eagles could survive two days of brutal wrestling. But survive they did. In fact, they consistently advanced their wrestlers into the championship and consolation rounds of the tournament.

Although the Eagles trailed by 13 after day one of competition, things started to look up for Calvary Chapel during Saturday's semifinal and consolation rounds and it soon became clear that the Eagles could pull this out.

When it was all over, Calvary Chapel won its fifth state wrestling championship. They did it with wrestlers such as Josh Saul, who took second at 215 and third-place finishers Adam Bones (112), Ben Nakamura (140) and Mike Bigrigg (189). And despite not winning an individual championship, the Eagles established themselves as the wrestling team of the '90s.

Said Azevedo: "It's not hard to win the meets that you're expected to. It's when you're not supposed to win. Those are the ones that stay with you the longest."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World