While some big changes are in place for the La Cañada High wrestling team this season, the Spartans will rely on the strengths they've enjoyed recently and historically.
For the first time in more than a decade, La Cañada has a new coach – Justin Luthey, a 2007 La Cañada graduate and former wrestling standout. When the former multiple-time Rio Hondo League champion and MVP first took over the program from longtime coach Gavin Williams on Aug. 6, his focus was on implementing collegiate-style practices.
Five months later and Luthey's pleased with his team's response, estimating he's averaging about 30 kids a practice, including the Thanksgiving Day workout.
“It's always good to have a big team, but it doesn't mean anything if they don't show up,” said Luthey, who has about 40 guys on the team. “The one thing I've been kind of challenging them on all year is mental toughness and our practices have been, in my opinion, a lot harder. They've really kind of rose to that and taken on that challenge.”
The Spartans went 4-1 in league last season for second place. They will look to take back the Rio Hondo League title from San Marino, which snapped La Cañada's two-year championship run.
“I think they would be considered the favorite,” Luthey said of San Marino. “They're going to have some really good wrestlers there, too, so we're just going to put our best guy out there at each weight and see how it plays out.”
While San Marino will likely rely on its lower weights again this year, La Cañada will be anchored by its upper-weight divisions.
“That's still the strength of the team, it's good for me because I'm an upper-weight guy myself, so I am able to work with them more and work on their heavyweight-type of moves,” Luthey said. “It's always nice to have guys with experience at upper-weights because it usually comes down to them as the dual meet progresses.”
All three of the Spartans’ reigning league champions will be in the upper-weights, with heavyweight Guillermo Padilla anchoring that senior trio and the rest of the team. The senior will look to build on last year, when he suffered an early injury in the CIF Masters Meet and still just missed a chance to wrestle in the ninth-place match, with the top-nine placers moving on to state.
Peter Garfield and Alex Bache are also fresh off league championship seasons in the 195- and 170-pound classes, respectively. Luthey is still toying with where he will place Garfield and Bache, expecting to rotate them both between 184 and 195 this year.
There's similar depth and possibilities throughout the rest of La Cañada's lineup. Sean Consolo (106), Andrew Saraceda (120), Rodrigo Torres (138), Chris Harb (152) and Danny Badie (160) all return to the lineup for the Spartans, who also welcome in Elias Figueroa at 126.
“We've got a lot of talent, too, right around the 38 to 52 class,” Luthey said. “Our middleweights are actually pretty stacked, so I like our middleweights, too. They're going to help carry us. We're not going to have to rely just on our heavyweights this year.”
Luthey also spoke highly of Jesse Leamon, who transferred back to La Cañada after wrestling in Indiana last year and will step right in at 132.
Competition is still underway in a number of weight divisions, with about four guys battling for the 170-pound slot. Tim Skaggs and Andrew Aghadjanians are in the running at 113, Ryan Loveless and Jared Garcia are battling at 145 and Russell Marki and Christian Tichon look to take over at 220.
“We are two-deep at some weight classes and four deep at others, so we've got some good depth right now,” Luthey said. “We're just kind of having the iron sharpen iron right now and hoping we'll be ready by the time league comes.”
Luthey, however, has not set his sights on a specific accomplishment or win-loss result to determine success this season.
“I think for wrestling the win-loss record is going to be a byproduct of everything else,” said Luthey, who is unsure what the league will look like but will learn a lot when his squad opens the season at San Marino's Ara Kumajian Tournament Saturday at 10 a.m. and then takes to the South Pasadena Tournament Dec. 27. “The goal is to get the guys to wrestle their best and to really be mentally tough so there's no quitting in the third period, there's no getting tired. That's what I want them to get better at and I've seen great improvement already.”