Wrestling is a sport of survival, but La Cañada High Coach Gavin Williams is trying to get his team to do more than that.
Williams believes there is more in reach for the Spartans besides the Rio Hondo League title. He wants his team to set their sights on CIF Southern Section competition instead of focusing solely on league. In order to prepare for the postseason, the coach is matching his players against tougher opponents during the season.
"We have to go to tougher tournaments with more teams and understand that you don't ignore league, by any means, but you don't stop your mental process there because it doesn't stop there," said Williams, who's entering his seventh season as head coach. "Everyone from La Cañada High wrestling should qualify for the CIF [Southern Section tournament] this year."
Hopes are the season won't end in the first round of playoffs. Spencer Tompkins was the last Spartans wrestler to capture a CIF Southern Section individual title. That came in 2007. He won the 160-pound weight-class championship in the CIF Southern Section's Northern Division.
Tompkins was the third wrestler in La Cañada High's history — and the first in 23 years — to win a CIF individual title.
"We had forgotten we can go beyond CIF until Spencer Tompkins," Williams said. "He showed our wrestlers that with hard work, they definitely can."
La Cañada's wrestling program has been a work in progress. Last year was the first time the Spartans had their own wrestling room on campus, thanks to fundraising from team parents.
"We had to raise $14,000 on our own," Williams said. "The support from the community was amazing. We got our first new mat in 30 years — they're only supposed to go every seven."
Williams returned to coach Spartan wrestling last year after taking a two-year hiatus.
"I came back because I didn't want to see the [wrestling] program disappear, like many are across the country," Williams said.
Last season was a "retooling of commitment," and progress is continuing to be made this year, Williams said.
"We're looking at about 30 kids this year, we're slowly building back up," Williams said. "The first year I ever coached our goal was just to get 14 wrestlers to fill out a weight class."
The Spartans enter this season with a core group of five wrestlers to lead the team. Williams is expecting big things from Marty Vardanian, Luke Sanborn, Chris Soohoo, Chris Bache, Daniel Wyatt and Josh Dong this season. All five wrestlers attended a two-week J. Robinson Intensive Wrestling Camp during the summer in Oregon.
"There is about a 40% dropout rate at those camps, and all five guys went and excelled," Williams said. "It's nice to have guys you can count on to put everything in it."