PREVIEW: CHS wrestling making moves

Seniors John Riffle, left, and Stevie White, both ranked in the

On an unassuming summer day, roughly four months before the start of the season, Christopher High wrestling head coach Alecxis Lara jotted down a prospective 14-wrestler lineup for the approaching 2011-12 campaign. The forecast appeared bright and he immediately liked what he saw.
“That’s really when I started realizing that we can be a top, contending team,” Lara, the third-year coach, said Monday. “On paper, it looks like we can do some amazing things.”
Given what has already transpired in the short time between the team’s inaugural season and now, it’s tough to blame Lara for the expectations he holds for his Cougars, who enter a third year at the varsity level – the only team at CHS to lay claim to that.
The Cougars ascension up the Monterey Bay League and Central Coast Section ladder has skipped a few rungs over the past two seasons. The progress has yielded success at a quick rate, starting with now-junior Jacob Graffigna clinching the school’s first playoff appearance in 2010 and continuing last year with the emergence of now-sophomore Jimmie Lopez, who placed fifth at the CCS meet as a freshman.
“The kids are listening to what we’ve taught and they are doing what we ask of them, which is why the program has improved,” Lara continued, adding that he believes much of the credit for the rapid growth and improvement must be doled out to coach Armando Gonzalez, who led GHS to seven straight section championships, and coach Adam Ruiz Sr.
On paper the Cougars do look like contenders. Four weeks into this season, it hasn’t been all projection, either. The Cougars already have a nonleague dual victory over San Benito and eased past Monterey 51-15 in their league opener three weeks ago. With a shortened roster, CHS has also placed fourth at the Peninsula Invite and fifth at the Lynn Dyche.
Twelve of the Cougars’ 14 lead grapplers are returning varsity members, 10 have been a part of the team from its inception and two are returning MBL individual champions (Lopez and Raul Meza) while three others placed second in the MBL postseason tournament. As a team, CHS took second in the final league standings.
Bolstered by the CCS’s No. 1-ranked 106-pounder, Lopez, the third-ranked 193-pounder John Riffle, sixth-ranked heavyweight Stevie White and ninth-ranked 120-pounder  Meza, the Cougars begin 2012 at No. 7 in CCS.
Riffle and Ricardo Bribiescas Lopez each have tournament championships this season. Bribiescas, Riffle and Tomas Zamora are returning league runners-up.
“Wrestling-wise, some of the leaders are definitely Jimmie, Raul and John,” Lara said.
“These guys are the ones always early to practice, always last to leave, they are disciplined. And at the same time they have a great attitude. They keep wanting to learn and get better. They are never content. The whole team feeds off of their high energy, their success and hard work.”
Continuing to translate their promising appearance on paper to the mat has roots in the understanding of how to consistently maintain that winning culture, something the Cougars have learned first hand from their neighbor Gilroy High, Lara said.
“One of the main things is the kids buying into the program and what we teach. We are right next door to a powerhouse program at Gilroy High. They do a great job over there and the kids are starting to realize that they can be successful too,” Lara said.
With experience comes confidence. And stemming from their 5-1 league mark in 2010-2011, the Cougars have sights set on something on top of a first league crown.
“Last year we were so focused on winning the league title, all we kept preaching to them was league, title, league, title, league title. After the league championships they felt a little unfocused for CCS,” Lara said.
“They are really looking at CCS this year. Realistically, I think we have a good shot at being top three in CCS if everyone performs the way we think they can. The kids understand that, they realize that, and that’s really motivating them and keeping them focused. I think that’s the main difference, they understand their improvements.”
Who else to watch: Freshman Austin Reichert: A 2010 middle school county champion and Honorable Mention ranking in CCS.
The above mentioned Jacob Graffigna: After a tough sophomore year, the junior is out to reclaim the success he had as a freshman.
– Four Cougars – Lopez, Bribiescas, Riffle and White will participate in the state’s toughest regular-season tournament the Doc Buchanan on Friday.

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