By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Birakos building off impressive turnout at first-year Lathrop
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. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin
East Union
The Lancers started with a good turnout that they have lacked in recent years, but numbers have dwindled since the winter break.
The core group that remains, however, is the lower weights anchoring the squad.
Matt Neves (140) was a runner-up at the league tournament. High hopes are also placed on juniors Marco Castaneda (119), Jason Cortez (125), Stevyn Teeple (130), Parsa Davari (135) and Hector Fajardo (215).
Freshman D.J. Ortega (112) is EU’s top newcomer. He was a junior varsity runner-up finisher in Saturday’s Demolition Day tournament hosted by Stagg High.

Zach Williams, a VOL runner-up last year, is among the best heavyweights in the Sac-Joaquin Section, as he is ranked seventh in his weight class according to The California Wrestler Newsletter.
The Buffaloes are heavy with senior leadership. Marcus Gonzales (119), Estevan Garcia (160) and Rick Honeycutt (189) return with aspirations to at least qualify for the section’s Masters Tournament. Senior newcomer Shane McCullar, a standout for California School for the Deaf — Fremont last season, is looking to make noise at 171.
Freshman Jorge Sierra is showing promise at 112, and sophomore Devon Sharp has been a solid 215-pound fill-in for program veteran Nick Gardner, who chose not to wrestle his senior year.

The Timberwolves had nine grapplers, the most among Manteca Unified schools, advance to the Division IV tournament last year, but most have graduated.
While Sierra might not be as strong as it was in dual meets, it might be even better come postseason tournament time.
Senior Robert Howard (125), after finishing third in the VOL as a 119-pounder, was one of two area wrestlers to win an individual Division IV crown last year. Fellow senior Oscar Castro (189) had been force to wrestle in the junior varsity ranks with talented teammates starting ahead of him, but he recently won the James Lick Tournament in San Jose while placing second in Saturday’s Turlock Tournament.
Sophomore Alex Nuanez, ranked eighth in the section, could be the 160-pounder to beat in league, and fellow underclassmen Aiden Foster (145) and freshman Austin Soto (119) are other key pieces for coach Frank Sabala to build around.

Weston Ranch
With VOL and Division IV heavyweight champion Rohman Alexander gone to graduation, the Cougars are searching for that go-to leader to fill the void.
Weston Ranch has no returning seniors with almost all-junior lineup highlighted by Christopher Rodriguez (103), Michael Salisbery (112), Grant Mar (125) and Travis Bowen (135), who was a runner-up finisher in Saturday’s Demolition Day tournament at Stagg High.
Junior Chris Contreras (189) may surprise in his first full year of varsity action, and sophomore Daniel Garcia (130) gives coach Pat King additional hope for the future.

Ryan Mackey is the area’s pound-for-pound best and is looking to improve on his impressive 2-2 finish at last year’s California Interscholastic Federation State Championships finish.
Now wrestling at 189 (up from 152), Mackey, the area’s lone state qualifier in 2007-08, is a perfect 12-0 with three tournament titles going into Wednesday’s league opener against visiting Riverbank.
Mackey was one of four Indians two win TVL championships last year, but the rest (Kyle Souza, Joey Ratto, Jake Brigdon) have graduated.
Third-year junior Nick Curtice (171) continues to translate his athletic ability onto the wrestling mat and could make a deep run in the postseason. Freshman Andy Yciano (215) has won two junior varsity tournaments and finished fifth in the Green and Gold Tournament at the varsity level.

— Jonamar Jacinto

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.”