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Birakos building off impressive turnout at first-year Lathrop

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Lathrop High wrestling coach Dimos Birakos and his young grapplers will begin the Valley Oak League season with a tri-meet against Weston Ranch and host Manteca Tuesday.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin/

POSTED January 5, 2009 12:16 a.m.
King Birakos is ready to lead his Spartans into battle.
But months before Tuesday’s Valley Oak League opener against Manteca and Weston Ranch, Dimos Birakos had to find soldiers to lead into battle — never an easy task when building a first-year wrestling program from scratch.
Lathrop High’s grappling team took its first big step, as 43 freshmen and sophomores turned out to endure the rigors of a sport new to most of them.
Keeping those numbers over winter break has been a challenge, but Birakos is most proud that he has yet to lose any to academic ineligibility.
That was an issue for the school’s football program this past fall, as 22 of 26 sophomores were declared ineligible. That forced the freshman team to disband and join the remaining four sophomores to form a frosh-soph team.
Birakos saw it all unfold firsthand as a member of the football team’s coaching staff. So when grades came out after the fall semester, he was happy to see most of his athletes post grade point averages better than 3.0.
“I was worried about it after what happened in football,” Birakos admitted. “It’s huge, because grades can make or break your program. When you lose your star wrestlers to grades it puts a dent in things.
“Not that many kids come out for wrestling to begin with, which is an unfortunate thing, so it helps when you have kids that are able to maintain good grades.”
Birakos served as an assistant coach under Frank Sabala for three years at Sierra High. Before that, he was at North Salinas High for three years — two as a head coach.
A football and wrestling standout at New Smyrna Beach in Florida, Birakos was a state tournament qualifier before continuing his football career as an offensive guard in college.
“I made it to the state tournament not because I was the most talented, but because I didn’t miss a practice in four years,” Birakos said. “That’s what I’m trying to get my kids to understand.”
Cedric Starling is one of Birakos’ most promising underlings being the only one to have some wrestling experience going into the season. The 215-pounder wrestled for half a season at Sierra before transferring.
Jenna Howard — one of two females on the team, the other being Lorena Ivanez — is the younger sister of Sierra senior Robert Howard, a Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV champion a year ago.
And Jared Weiler, whom Birakos credits as one of the most dedicated Spartans, is the younger brother of Michelle Weiler, who graduated from Sierra last year as the school’s most decorated female grappler.
Christian Pena (125), Mark Maynard (145), Mules Romo (130) and Andrew Aquino (112) are others that Birakos will look to build around.
Like most coaches building a program from scratch, Birakos wants to see immediate results. He’d like all 43 of his wrestlers to attend every practice over the break. He wants a few of his best to step up and be leaders.
But he also realizes he’s not dealing with juniors and seniors.
“Right now, how do you measure success?” Birakos said. “It’s tough to do that with a first-year program.”
He does have goals set for his young wrestlers.
Though Lathrop boasts enough numbers to field both a varsity and junior varsity squad, Birakos prefers to develop his team at the JV level during league duals. He has several wrestlers that have placed in junior varsity tournaments hosted by Beyer, Waterford and the VOL Novice Tournament.
But he hopes to have a handful ready for the VOL Championships, where he will test his best at the varsity ranks.
“I’d like to get two or three kids to qualify for divisionals,” Birakos said. “I’m just super excited for the (league) season to get started.
“If we can finish with at least 25 kids, that would be pretty good for our first year and that’s something we can build on. To have 43 come out is great, but we can make our next step by finishing with a decent amount of kids.”
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