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Mater Dei wrestling on its way up
SANTA ANA The Mater Dei wrestling room is situated high in the Meruelo Athletic Center, giving it a perfect view of the school's rich athletic history.
The banners commemorating the various titles won by the school's sports teams hang from the ceiling.
None of the banners belongs to the wrestling team.
Inside the wrestling room, there is a dedicated group that's working to change that.
The Mater Dei wrestling team – yes, Mater Dei has a wrestling team – is hard at work, going through drills and sprints under the watchful eye of Coach Luis Renteria.
This is the Monarchs' second year under Renteria, and the improvements are noticeable.
“The hardest part is turning the student-athletes into wrestlers,” Renteria said. “This is all new to them. Coming from last year to this year, they're buying into the system, slowly …
“Last year, in every tournament that we went to, we hardly had any placers. This year, we placed in pretty much every tournament. The kids are buying into it.”
Another sign of the growth can be found this weekend. Last year, Mater Dei had five wrestlers advance to the CIF-SS Individual Championships. This year, there were eight who started the two-day tournament Friday at Santiago Canyon College.
The tournament resumes Saturday at 11 a.m.
While some teams spent the offseason traveling to camps, Renteria kept things simple in an effort to get his team better acclimated to the sights and surroundings.
“We were here the whole summer. We took them to open mats, whether it was at Servite, Fountain Valley,” Renteria said. “Trying to expose them as much as we can to world of wrestling and tell them that in order for us to be good in this sport, we have to sacrifice, time, friends, family, and I think some of the kids are doing that.”
Senior Kevin Jacobs is a good example of the changes going on at Mater Dei.
Jacobs, who quit wrestling his junior year, was one of six of the Monarchs who placed third at the Trinity League finals. That finish helped him qualify for the individual championships.
In the Trinity League, only the top three at each weight are guaranteed entry to CIF.
“This has become like a community,” Jacobs said of the program. “I think we're much more intense and lot more dedicated this year.
“He (Renteria) had to start from scratch with freshmen and sophomores. I saw them getting better, so I came back and tried it out.”
The results were evident early this season. Mater Dei went 2-3 at the Montclair 10-Way.
In its first real test of the season, the Monarchs had six medalists at the Beach Bash tournament.
Later in the year at the Cavalier Classic, Mater Dei had five medalists, including Johnny McLaughlin, who was first at 106 pounds. The Monarchs finished fourth.
“Coach has expected a lot from us this year,” sophomore Trevor Perez said. “We've been able to do better, a lot better than we did last year, but we still need to improve at some stuff.”
Renteria has tried to find a way to push the Monarchs while keeping their confidence up.
“We've just worked with what we've had,” Renteria said. “The kids that have stayed, they've done a good job.”
Renteria said he faced the same situation in his last coaching stop: Edison. Eventually he was selected the Register's Coach of the Year in 2010.
“I think it was the second year (at Edison), we had to start all over,” he said. “I told the kids you have to put in your time. You have to wrestle in the offseason, summer, preseason.
“If you want to get to the top, then we have to train like the other guys do, like the Poways, Clovis, Laguna Hills, San Clemente. In order for us to be at that level, we have to do that.
“We can't come in and be a three-month wrestler and expect to go to state or win state.”
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