They don’t have the numbers and certainly don’t have the resources of their counterparts, but Valencia wrestling coach Brian Peterson is adamant his team will contend for a Southern Section title this year. The Vikings have just 20 wrestlers on their team – a fraction of what most Southern Section schools brought to last year’s team dual tournament, which they placed second at. Four Valencia wrestlers qualified for the CIF-SS Masters Meet last season and all four return this year, including Chance Rich, who placed sixth at last year’s CIF State championships in the 120-pound weight class. “This is the strongest team we’ve ever put out,” said Peterson, who launched the program three seasons ago. “We kind of unexpectedly rose to that second-place spot at (last year’s Southern Section team dual tournament). It won’t be unexpected this season.” Along with Rich, who’s ranked as the No. 3 wrestler in the state for his weight class, per California Wrestler, the Vikings return Israel Galvan (113), Derrick Top (152) and Ben Gould (170). All three joined Rice at the CIF-SS Masters Meet last season. Galvan is ranked at No. 32 in his weight class, Gould at No. 26 and Top at No. 32, according to California Wrestler. Valencia is ranked No. 21 as a team. Nicolas Lopez (160) is an honorable mention for his weight class. Outside of Galvan, Peterson has been working with his current group well before they reached high school at his Peterson Grapplers facility in Valencia. “I remember telling them, ‘You don’t even know yet, but you’re going to be a part of one of the most successful sports programs at your school,’” Peterson said. “I’m not surprised that they’ve gotten to this point. This is what we expected all along.” Rich, who will be wrestling at Cal State Bakersfield next year, is currently out of the lineup while dealing with an undisclosed injury. Peterson expects him to be back for Tri-Valley League competition. The Vikings have won the league the last two seasons and are once again favorites, with the league finals set for Feb. 7. Peterson has stability down the road as well, with freshman America Lopez (170). “She’s the future,” Peterson said, “She’s insanely good.” Lopez went 4-0 in the boys division at last weekend’s Newbury Invitational. A video showing Lopez winning her final match had over 9,000 views on the Valencia wrestling Facebook page as of Thursday.
“I’m not saying she’s going to for sure be a state champion this year, but she’ll be one of the favorites,” Peterson said. Peterson will have Lopez wrestling in both girls and boys tournaments but expects to have her wrestle at the junior varsity level at boys tournaments. “She’s likely going to win most of her matches there,” Peterson said. Peterson cited the Vikings’ tough tournament schedule as to why she wouldn’t consistently wrestle boys at the varsity level just yet. The wrestling team doesn’t have a facility at Valencia, or a physical education class devoted to wrestling, and just last month had a banner placed up at the school’s gymnasium signifying its back-to-back league titles. But they’ll look to continue to prove it’s about the quality, not the quantity. NOTES – The CIF-SS team dual tournament will be held on Feb. 3 at Redondo Union High School. The boys individual CIF-SS championships will be held Feb. 16-17, with the location to be determined. The girls CIF-SS Masters will be Feb. 9-10 at Eleanor Roosevelt High School.