Surprising Spartans advance to Masters

February 23, 2001|By ERIC GALVAN, Sports Writer

At last weekend's CIF San Diego Section Division III wrestling tournament at Southwest High in El Centro, the biggest surprise wasn't Brawley Union High winning it all but Central Union High finishing sixth among 27 teams.

The reason it was such a surprise was the Spartans' lackluster regular season performance. Central ended with a 5-16 record with a 1-4 mark in the Imperial Valley League and entering CIF hopes were to finish in the middle of the pack.

Instead, what Central coach Stan Gienger got was probably the most surprising team performance of the tournament. In fact, of eight tournaments the Spartans competed in this year, CIF was the first in which they placed.

"We knew we had a good team, but realistically I thought we'd finish in the middle of the pack, with about three medal winners," said Gienger. "Back in December it seemed like we couldn't lose a dual and in January we just couldn't win one. But for CIF, our team just rose to the occasion."


Said Brawley coach Keith Smith: "I was real surprised with how they did. That's how you build a program, by doing well at CIF. I think that will really help them for the future."

When the season ends, Gienger will step down as head wrestling coach after 16 years. This is the third year Gienger has been head coach of the Spartans' wrestling program after stints as an assistant in the 1960s, '70s, '80s and '90s.

While many would like to think the Central squad rallied to send out Gienger on a winning note, all involved said that was not the case, particularly Gienger, who said that would be the last thing he'd want his squad to use as motivation.

What eventually did help the Spartans was six wrestlers finishing in the top six in their weight classes and qualifying for the San Diego CIF Section Masters meet Saturday in Carlsbad.

Leading Central were Danny Vasquez winning in the 132-pound division, and Michael Staton finishing third at 173. Ernie Castallanos earned a trip to Masters by taking fourth at 121 and teammates Mario Luna (105), Cameron Lechner (147) and Alan Adame (191) all earned trips as alternates by finishing fifth or sixth.

Vasquez and Staton said they were motivated by proving themselves to their opponents.

"We wanted to show the Valley that we were better than what we did during the season," said Vasquez. "Everybody seemed to be more prepared for this than anything else. We just wanted to prove ourselves."

Said Staton: "He really hasn't been here that long, but in a way we kind of wanted to do well for Coach Gienger. More than anything, though, a lot of the seniors really wanted to try to get to state. We just want to see someone get there."

Should any of the Spartans place in the top three at Masters, they will earn a trip to the state meet in Stockton.

Added Gienger of his team's chances at Masters: "I think right now we're real healthy, in as good of shape as we've been and our attitude is really good. Our performance at CIF showed just how good of a team we can be. And for Masters, I expect at least three champions and to have at least three guys at state."

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