Two La Cañada High wrestlers qualified for the CIF Masters Meet last year and the Spartans took home the Rio Hondo League crown, making 2010-11 one of the best seasons in program history.
Things are much different for La Cañada this season. Both of the Masters qualifiers, Luke Sanborn and Chris Bache, graduated and Spartans Coach Gavin Williams is left with a lot of unknowns and a very young squad.
The good news for Williams is that he has a very full, young roster with a total of 44 wrestlers in the program this year. Twenty-eight of them are freshmen or sophomores. That's good news for the future of La Cañada wrestling, but Williams knows it doesn't always make for immediate success.
"I am not expecting any dominance," said Williams, who is entering his eighth season with La Cañada. "Last year, out of the gate we were pretty tough. This year, we're going to be tougher at the end of the season once we have that experience under our belt."
Still, the Spartans are favored to win league for the second straight year. Their previous season ended in a 39-30 loss to top-seeded Downey High in the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division VI tournament.
La Cañada enters this season ranked fifth in Division VI.
"We have yet to prove that we even belong [in the rankings]," Williams said. "I figure that out in the next few weeks, if we even belong in something like that.
"I never expect us to be as good as we are. I always hope for it, but we will see what we can do. We usually pull a rabbit out of the hat at some point."
A core of seniors are returning to lead La Cañada this year. Seniors Marty Vardanian (183), Kevin Stoner (152), Brian Streeter (137) and Daniel Wyatt (112) are all poised to have big years, Williams said.
"To be honest, all my seniors have the capacity to go wherever they want this year," Williams said. "I feel like my seniors are in charge of their own destiny."
One advantage the Spartans had over most teams in Rio Hondo last year was their ability to fill every weight class and compete in every match. This year is no different for La Cañada.
"We can definitely fill out our roster," Williams said. "We have a couple weights with three or four guys, but I think we can find someone to fit in every weight."
South Pasadena Coach Al Shuton won't be able to fill an entire lineup this season with a young squad and holes at the 220 and heavyweight slots.
Shuton, who is entering his 10th season with the Tigers, knows that spoils his chances for a league title so he's measuring success on how his individuals do in CIF competition.
"The top three [teams] in our league are all pretty close," Shuton said. "It would be nice to be league champ, but my focus is CIF — that's my end goal. I would like to take league, but because of numbers and experience I don't usually get that."
South Pasadena took third in Rio Hondo last year, but sent multiple kids to CIF and one to Masters.
The Tigers enter the season ranked 10th in Division VI.
Two seniors, Ned Estrada (170) and Sean Ehrlich (126), should fare well in CIF, Shuton said.
San Marino is set to fill all its weight classes this season, which is already an improvement on 2010-2011.
"This is the first year I have been able to put a full team together at San Marino," fourth-year Coach Joe Gallardo said.
The Titans slipped to fourth in Rio Hondo League last season with an even younger squad that had to forfeit matches. Gallardo is expecting a different result with his first full lineup at San Marino.
"We didn't do too well in league [last year]," Gallardo said. "I am looking to compete in league this year. We are counting on our young guys this year. The kids are starting to buy into the program."
The Titans are also young, but Gallardo has a handful of wrestlers he expects big things from.
San Marino's senior and returning league champion Andrew Barth will check in at 170 pounds with fellow senior Jonathan Chow filling the 132-pound slot. Junior Bryan Chang (182) and sophomores Adam Padilla (145) and Jonathan Yao (heavyweight) should all have an impact for the Titans.