WENATCHEE — Wenatchee wrestling coach Ed Valdez paces the center of a mat, shouting words of encouragement to a depleted herd of wrestlers as they alternate jogging and sprinting circles around the room.
Shirts are saturated with sweat and the wrestlers are dying for a break.
“Better it hurts here than it does on the mat in front of everybody,” Valdez shouts.
Finally practice is called and the exhausted athletes get a chance to catch their breaths.
Valdez operates under the concept that conditioning can make a good wrestler great. This season, endurance could be the key for the Panthers, who will rely on a host of heavyweight grapplers to carry the load.
“If you can outlast some of these bigger guys … that’s key,” said senior Ryan Osterlund (280 pounds), who finished fourth at regionals last year. “If you can outlast some of those stronger guys, they’re done.”
Osterlund, one of Wenatchee’s top returning grapplers, relied on a combination of speed and conditioning last year, oftentimes winning matches through attrition. The 18-year-old’s natural weight is closer to 230 pounds, so size is rarely an advantage for Osterlund.
Ignacio Molinero (280), on the other hand, has size and strength, but needs better endurance if he hopes to qualify for state. Last year, his conditioning betrayed him.
The senior heavyweight lost in the second round of regionals by a single point. He felt capable of notching the victory, but ran out of gas late in the match.
Molinero’s working to avoid falling in a similar fashion. He’s buying into Valdez’s heavy emphasis on conditioning.
“We get used to moving for so long, it helps us keep going for matches,” he said.
Endurance hasn’t been an issue for Kyle Lesmeister (220), though. In fact, not much of anything has been.
The senior finished fourth at state last year and heads into the winter season eyeing a state title.
“I’m feeling pretty confident about it, but we’ll see how it goes,” Lesmeister said.
With Lesmeister leading the way and Mulinero and Osterlund anchoring the heavyweight slot, the Panthers could easily have three state qualifiers. Things continue to look bright in the lighter weight classes, too.
Wenatchee returns two regional qualifiers — Michael St. Claire and Zack Paro — at 182 pounds and Drake Lewis (106) and Alberto Montes De Oca (120), both of whom placed sixth at regionals a year ago.
Additionally, Valdez is expecting big things from Isaiah VanWeerdhuizen and a long list of other proven returners.
“We’ve got a lot of talent back,” Valdez said. “Guys that are wanting to make a name for themselves, like the Charco brothers, Chris Garret, Hector Alvarez, David Marquez. These are guys I don’t think people have read about, but they’re putting the time in.”