Panthers grappler eager to make the most of his time on the mat
Monday, January 28, 2013
It’s been four years, but Wenatchee wrestling coach Ed Valdez still doesn’t know exactly what to expect when Noel Sanchez Moreno steps onto the mat.
When Sanchez Moreno is on offense and he’s in the zone, he wrestles like a four-year veteran who’s accustomed to winning. But sometimes the senior wrestles too passively, or makes mistakes that allude to his inexperience.
When Sanchez Moreno is aggressive and wins matches, Valdez gets a glimpse of the determined freshman that stepped into the Wenatchee wrestling room looking for a challenge. When the 18-year-old hesitates or takes a false step, it’s a reminder of time lost.
“That’s the unfortunate thing,” Valdez said. “His potential’s never been tapped because he’s never been able to finish a season.”
Regardless, Sanchez Moreno won the Panthers’ starting spot at the 145-pound weight class this year, and for the first time in his career, he has a shot at reaching regionals.
It hasn’t come easy, but few things in Sanchez Moreno’s life have.
A bright pupil
Sanchez Moreno didn’t set out to be a wrestler from a young age, but picked up the sport as a way to condition for soccer.
The multisport athlete, who plays goalie on the Panthers’ soccer team and for the Wenatchee Fire, wanted more stamina and figured wrestling would be a great way to stay in shape during the winter.
Almost immediately, Valdez took interest in the young talent. Sanchez Moreno brought a refreshing intensity and focus to the gym. That, paired with his athleticism and conditioning from years of soccer, instantly made him a bright spot in the freshman class.
“One time he (Valdez) specifically told me, ‘You stick with it and you’re going to be a tough wrestler,’ ” Sanchez Moreno said.
The senior class at that time, which was full of talented grapplers, inspired Sanchez Moreno, and his first pin came early in his career — during his second match at a jamboree in Moses Lake. He quickly became a dedicated member of the team.
He didn’t take practices off, he was always on task and his enthusiasm and conditioning helped to make him a strong addition to Valdez’s squad.
“When you look around in the room, you pass right past him, because he’s always doing what he’s supposed to be doing,” Valdez said.
But for all of his dedication and effort to improve, Sanchez Moreno couldn’t fully commit to the program.
His family’s financial hardships required him to pitch in, which meant working whenever possible.
But Sanchez Moreno didn’t vanish. He showed up to practice whenever he could and was always in contact with Valdez, always telling the veteran coach anytime he would be absent.
It was a similar story his sophomore season. Sanchez Moreno did everything in his power to make practices, but he was still absent at intervals. He always stayed in touch, though.
“Because he always came out and he always wrestled as long as he could, I’ve always respected him,” Valdez said.
A year of absence
Ever since his freshman year, Sanchez Moreno has spent his summers working at a Stemilt cherry packing shed in Olds Station.
The long days of sealing cherry boxes helped provide for his family and kept him busy when he wasn’t in school.
Entering his junior wrestling season, though, his family was still struggling to get by. After about two weeks of practice, Sanchez Moreno quit the team so that he could work part-time at Arby’s. Sanchez Moreno knew that a year away from wrestling would stunt his maturation on the mat, but he did what was best for his family.
“I knew I wasn’t going to get any better for the future,” he said. “I kind of wanted to improve, but I knew I needed to get a job.”
Sanchez Moreno spent the winter working part-time and kept the job for about six months. He took a year off, but he didn’t forget about wrestling. Later that year, a senior season looked like a real possibility.
Things started to level out after Sanchez Moreno’s junior year. He was able to put away enough money to buy himself a black 1999 Mitsubishi Eclipse with 107,000 miles on it from a friend of his dad’s for $3,500.
During the summer leading up to his senior year, he got to go on his first off-season wrestling trip with the team — a training camp at Western Oregon University — and wrestled more matches in a two-day span (between 10 and 11) than he did his entire junior year.
There was some rust and plenty of fatigue, but Sanchez Moreno was still effective — he won more than half of his matches.
After the tournament, he approached Valdez, excited, before the start of the season and told him his senior year was a go.
From start to finish
The wrestling season’s reaching its climax — Wenatchee wrapped up the regular season 2-3 in the Big Nine, and districts is Saturday at Eastmont — and Sanchez Moreno’s been there every step of the way.
He’s missed only a few practices, and doesn’t take a single day in the gym for granted.
He still has a heavy workload, three advanced placement courses (he has an A or A-minus in all of them) and soccer, but a hectic day isn’t enough to keep the energetic senior away.
“I really see it as a privilege, and I’m just glad to be here,” he said.
Sanchez Moreno’s goal is to make it to regionals. He’s never made it that far before, but finally has a chance this year, depending on how things shake out this weekend.
Valdez, on the other hand, doesn’t have any expectations for the middle-weight scrapper. His presence in the wrestling room and his unwavering commitment through thick and thin the past four years has been a refreshing display of grit and perseverance for the coach.
“When I commit myself to something, I like to finish it and do my best at it,” Sanchez Moreno said. “That goes school-wise, activities, sports. So if I’m going to do something, I’m going to commit fully or just not do it at all.”
Other obligations and responsibilities may have hindered his potential, but his drive kept him going, and ultimately played a big part in his one last chance at a postseason run.
After putting wrestling on the back burner, he has the chance to make the most of his final matches. It’s a chance he won’t take lightly.
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