By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma Valley and Healdsburg each went 1-2 in their opening pools, then won in the next round to set up an all-Sonoma County League confrontation in Round 3.
Too soon? The respective coaching staffs felt it was. Knowing they’ll see more than enough of each other when league wrestling starts in early January, Sonoma coach Kyle Baird and Healdsburg’s Scott Weidemier mutually agreed to call it a night.
With several kids sick, icing minor injuries or home studying for finals, the coaches felt they had little to gain from another round.
“We’ll see them. We’ll have our time with them,” Greyhounds wrestler Drew Esquivel said. “No need to hurry it.”
Sonoma and Healdsburg wound up sharing the No. 9 position in the 16-team tournament. Casa Grande was 11th and Petaluma 14th. Ukiah also was to have participated, but the Wildcats, wracked by the flu, dropped out a couple days before the event.
St. Francis of Mountain View won the overall title, defeating Bella Vista of Fair Oaks in the gold bracket final.
Really, though, Saturday’s 15th annual Healdsburg Duals Invitational at Healdsburg High was less about results than getting kids some needed experience.
“Like our better kids, we want mistakes, we want them to lose, we want them to think it’ll be hard — to help them learn,” said Sonoma Valley assistant Deets Winslow, back with the Dragons after a two-year hiatus. “Because if they just go out and beat guys easily, they don’t learn anything.”
Healdsburg had to go through Casa in the second round, setting up some of the day’s best local action. Esquivel, an honorable mention All-Empire wrestler last year at 113 pounds, handed the Gauchos’ Ian Bailey his only loss of the day at 120 on Saturday. At 145 pounds, the Greyhounds’ Jeff Grainger outpointed Mich-ael Nelson for the second time in two weeks, helping Healdsburg win 43-33.
“I think I had him on his back once, and I kind of felt more confident,” Grainger said. “And then I just tried to do the best I could to not give away points. … I could tell he was getting tired.”
Seamus Lanham (113 pounds) and Bailey both went 4-1 for Casa Grande, and freshman Nickolas Jensen, stepping up from 195 to 220, raised some eyebrows by going 5-0. Two of his victories were by forfeit, but the other three were all pins.
Among the other Empire wrestlers who shined at the tournament were Dominic Merlo (160 pounds) and Nick Newman (106) of Healdsburg, Giordi Serafini (132) and Aiden Lacy (220) of Sonoma — 180-pounder Sean O’Brien, one of the Gauchos’ best, was injured and did not compete — and brothers Cole (145) and Nick Pruett (182) of Petaluma.
The wrestling was divided between Healdsburg’s two gyms — Darrell Barbieri Court and the campus’ older fieldhouse, its stage still set for a recent production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Teams wrestled in four groupings of four schools each; winners advanced to face other winners, losing teams stayed around to face other losing teams.
The non-stop grappling started at 9 a.m. and lasted past 7 p.m.
“That’s why I like this tournament,” said Weidemier, the organizer. “Everybody’s gonna see somebody who’s more or less equal to them in ability, whether they’re very good or not as good. And there’s a lot of wrestling, and that’s what these guys need, is mat time.”
Healdsburg lost most of its top wrestlers to graduation and has a much smaller and less experienced crew this year, but still has a talented core built around Esquivel, Newman, Merlo and junior Ian Black (170).
“We had six or seven kids in our lineup that this was the first varsity match they’ve ever had, and some of these guys have only a few weeks’ experience,” Weidemier said. “Taking that into consideration, I felt really good with the way they wrestled.”
Sonoma Valley and Petaluma also have seen their numbers decline this year. But the Casa Grande program is burgeoning just in time for the Gauchos’ move to the North Bay League.
One big body Casa will not have this year: Elijah Qualls, who established himself as the Empire’s top heavyweight last year but decided not to wrestle in 2012-13, presumably to save himself for the University of Washington football team.
You can reach Phil Barber at email@example.com.