With success comes growth, and with growth there is always a desire for balance.
The La Cañada wrestling team enjoyed its most successful campaign last season, and with the new campaign looming, the rising program is not slowing down in its quest for more success..
With 12 new additions to the team’s roster, three new assistant coaches — two of which wrestled in last year’s Masters Meet — and a returning bulk of experienced wrestlers, the two-time defending Rio Hondo League champion Spartans are heading into a promising season.
“I think we’re stronger in all the other weight classes, overall, than we have been in other years,” La Cañada coach Justin Luthey said. “… We have guys that I think are good, but we don’t have anyone [I think] that are standouts among them, but we do have an elevated quality of kids in our room.
“Every single weight class — from 106 to heavyweight — is going to have guys who wrestled at least in varsity tournaments last year, and most had winning records on varsity.”
Last season, the program made an appearance at the Masters Meet for the first time in two years, and had one wrestler qualify for the CIF State Girls’ Wrestling Championship — the first state qualifier since 2007.
“We sent the most wrestlers we’ve ever had [to Masters],” Luthey said. “We’ve never sent three in one year. That was a really special group.”
Two wrestlers who advanced to the Masters Meet, David Sarkisian and Ben Donoho, have joined the team as assistant coaches, and Luthey says they’ll pass on valuable knowledge down to the team.
The returning girls’ wrestler, senior Sophie Garcia, will lead a small pack of grapplers off the back of her individual state appearance.
“She’s amazing and nobody works harder than her in the program,” said Luthey of the program’s top 16 finisher in state.
Garcia's greatest effort in 2017 took place the following weekend at the CIF Southern Section Girls' Wresting Championships at Eastvale Eleanor Roosevelt High. Garcia took third in her weight class and became her school's, and the area's, first girls' wrestler, to advance to the CIF State Meet.
Although it’s a senior-heavy boys’ team with an expected 10 starters, there is championship quality throughout the roster.
The Spartans boast two-time defending 170-pound champion Johnny Vasily, the 2015 champion at 138 pounds Brandon Abboud, the 132-pound 2017 league champion in Cameron Carey and Will Henderson, the 160-pound league champion in 2016.
Kenneth Kim, the 182-pound heavyweight sophomore, will look to add to CIF duals wins from last season to help the team to success.
For the playoffs, the CIF Southern Section has reworked its playoff model, which affects the Spartans. Instead of going against area wrestling teams, the Spartans will now compete within specific divisions based off on competitive equity, much like how other sports have been realigned.
With all the talent and with last year’s run, the Spartans were bumped to Division III — uncharted territory for Luthey’s team.
“One of the challenge is to convince our kids that we have a chance and it doesn’t matter who we’re wrestling,” Luthey said. “I know that all the guys that are going to make Division III are going to be good. There are not going to be any easy matches, but we feel like if all of our good kids can make their weight classes and spread out over 14 weight classes, I think we’ll be pretty good.”
But in a smaller scope, the Spartans look to defend their league title against South Pasadena, Monrovia, Hoover and top-contender San Marino.