Wrestling takes hold at Hoover

When the Hoover High wrestling program begins its second season next winter, Coach Mark Bitetti looks forward to counting on having the equipment and space to practice, a likely new home in an established league and some tournament experience in tow. Most importantly, Bitetti now knows he has some kids who can really wrestle after taking to the sport in the first year it’s existed at Hoover.

“The year was kind of about like expected,” said Bitetti, a teacher and freshman football coach at Hoover. “We were young, it was our first year getting our feet wet and we had a couple of kids do pretty darn well this year. We’re going to be OK because most of the kids are coming back. ...I think next year we’ll do better.”

With no other wrestling programs in the Pacific League, where all of the Tornadoes’ other sports teams reside, Hoover was mostly limited to tournaments when it came to live competition, although the Tornadoes did engage in one dual meet with South Pasadena on Jan. 12.

“We did OK, we hung in there,” said Bitetti, who’s team lost, 46-36, but in the process got wins from Arman Arshakyan, Arthur Ghukasyan and Jose Abrina.

Ghukasyan, a sophomore, was one of the few members of the team with wrestling experience and he enjoyed an undefeated season in the 145-pound weight class.

“It went pretty good,” Ghukasyan said of the inaugural season. “[The program] has a good future. We’re getting better.”

Hoover was involved in three tournaments over the course of the season, including the Northview junior varsity tournament, where the Tornadoes placed fourth. Members of the team also enjoyed some individual success at the Arroyo Tournament to close out the season.

Junior Gio Martinez (220) and sophomore Abrina (170) both won their weight classes at the tournament.

“I liked how it was a one-on-one sport, not like in football where you could rely on your teammates, it’s all on you,” said Abrina, a first-time wrestler, who also plays football at Hoover. “It felt good to win at least one.

“Our first year was great, so I’m expecting more [people to come out] next year.”

Bitetti said the demands of the sport initially whittled down the numbers of the team from its starting 40 to the 25-deep roster that finished out the season. But he’s hoping for an infusion of freshman interest next year to join a dedicated group of expected returners such as Ghukasyan, Abrina, Martinez, Kenny Garcia and Andres Rosas.

“It was a great experience, I think, for all our teammates,” 160-pounder Roman Acosta said. “We learned how wrestling works and the conditioning that’s involved in it. It was really fun and competitive, which I like.”

The program enjoyed solid backing from the administration in getting off the ground, Hoover Athletic Director Jack Van Patten said. Befoer the season, the school district purchased a wrestling mat for practices, which were held in one of the school’s gyms or sometimes in the cafeteria when conflicts arose with basketball season.

“The kids are excited on campus,” Van Patten said. “[Bitteti’s] done a good job of getting kids interested, the administration’s behind it. Everyone’s gung ho.”

Bitetti said he has already submitted paperwork to CIF to gain admittance to the Rio Hondo League, which, in wrestling, consists of South Pas, La Cañada, San Marino and Monrovia.

“We’re hoping to get in that league,” Bitetti said. “Everybody [in the league] we talked to think it’s a great idea. They all want us there, there’s openings in that league. It just makes sense.”

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