GLENDALE — Tucked away into the far corner of the Hoover High basketball gym, behind a giant curtain, the school’s fledgling wrestling program spent part of this week and portions of this summer preparing for season No. 3.
On Friday afternoon, the Tornadoes kicked off their new campaign at home versus Franklin with a different set of circumstances and expectations and a new coach in one-time assistant Dave Beard.
The former four-sport high school athlete took over for coach Mark Bitetti this summer and is hoping he can convert a hot bed into a gold mine.
“I believe the interest is really getting up there and one of my challenges is getting more of our students enthusiastic about high school wrestling,” Beard said. “Glendale has a big [mixed martial arts] community and I want to reach out to that crowd and really build up this program.”
Such excitement was visible last year when the front half of the gym packed around 300 people into the school’s first-ever home league match on Jan. 10 versus league champion San Marino.
That squad moved into the Rio Hondo League last season for the first time and finished fifth in the six-team alignment with a 1-5 overall record and a 1-4 mark in league, which included a 54-21 road victory versus St. Paul on Jan. 3 in the league opener.
Yet, victories aren’t exactly what has Hoover preoccupied.
“There really isn’t a point to talking about wins or how we do in league,” Beard said. “We have individual and team goals, no doubt, but the most important thing for us is to continue to build up a program.”
The Tornadoes graduated a pillar in senior Gio Martinez, who earned the distinction of being the program’s first and only league champion after pinning St. Paul’s Mark Millan in the 220-pound final on Feb. 2 at Santa Fe Middle School in Monrovia.
Despite Martinez winning his school’s only title, he was far from alone in reaching the finals.
Hoover does welcome back league runner-ups in seniors Artur Ghukasyan and Sebastian Ghouliance, who joined Martinez in advancing to the following week’s CIF Individual Regional Tournament.
“I think the goal is just to keep on getting better as a team and learning how to wrestle,” said Ghukasyan, who fell to San Marino’s Adam Padilla, 7-6, in overtime of the 145-pound championship. “This year we’re focusing on being a better team.”
Beard has the luxury of placing Ghukasyan in three different weight classes, although it’s more than likely the senior will wrestle at 160 pounds.
Also for Ghouliance, the senior will probably compete at 170 pounds a year after falling in the 160-pound league finals to San Marino’s Brian Chang, 16-8.
“Sebastian brings a different type of toughness and discipline with his jiu jitsu background,” Beard said. “Maybe his best attribute is that he’s an unorthodox fighter and can get into some really awkward positions and get his opponent into those same uncomfortable positions.”
While losing Martinez will sting Hoover this season, the Martinez family legacy continues, as sophomore twin brothers Jessie and Geraldy Martinez are hoping to pick up the slack at 145 pounds and 152 pounds, respectively.
“This is a big move up from junior varsity and there will be some expectations for us,” Geraldy said. “But we come from a wrestling family and know what to expect.”
The same cannot be said for a large chunk of the team.
As assistant coach Bobby Denam went over the finer points of landing a chicken wing hold at practice Wednesday afternoon, the team went silent, but intently observed.
“We still have a lot of athletes who don’t know that much about wrestling and we’re going to do as best as we can to get this team up to speed,” Beard said. “Wins for us will be counted on how much this team continues to improve.”