The Valencia High School wrestling program isn’t known for having a large squad, but Vikings head coach Brian Peterson is looking forward to seeing what his tightknit group can accomplish this season.
The varsity roster has just five wrestlers listed, but one of them, senior Alex Lopez, competed at the CIF Southern Section Masters Meet last year. Lopez is set to wrestle at 190 pounds this year after going 1-2 at the Masters Meet at 195 pounds last year.
Also returning are seniors Jairda Chopra (215 pounds) and Om Kulkarni (113 pounds), along with junior Dayle Cailles. Peterson is excited about Chopra, who is wrestling for just the second year but has shown promise.
“They should perform fairly well. I think even though Jairda is only a second-year, he’s a big kid. I think that at 215, he can be pretty competitive, even though he’s just in his second season. And him being a mature kid, he’s a smart kid, he’s got great academics — I just think that he’s gonna blossom this year as a wrestler.”
The Vikings will be competing in the Coastal Canyon League for the second straight year, going up against teams such as Camarillo, Moorpark, Royal and Simi Valley. Peterson isn’t expecting too many wins at dual meets, but does expect his wrestlers to win every individual battle they can.
If Peterson can instill that mentality now, he believes that the Vikings can begin to compete for a league title very soon.
“I believe Camarillo and Royal, they think they’re gonna be on top over the next couple of years, they’re probably looking at their future,” Peterson said, “but I really believe we’re going to be league champs in two to three years.”
Part of that belief comes from the large number of junior varsity wrestlers in Peterson’s program. There are more than 30 wrestlers listed on Valencia’s JV roster.
The Vikings’ first dual meet of the year comes on Thursday when they travel to Camarillo to take on the Scorpions. Camarillo won the Coastal Canyon League last season.
After that, the Vikings are set to travel to Downey for the Downey 32 tournament on Friday and Saturday. That, Peterson said, is where the Vikings can show how promising their small group is and perhaps even have some of the JV wrestlers come up to compete.
“For the new kids, get their feet wet, try to give them a first-time experience,” Peterson said. “So no big expectations, just get out there and wrestle.”
Valencia will not host any meets or tournaments this year and, as is typically the case, will have to travel extensively to compete. Along with dual meets throughout Ventura County and the tournament in Downey, the Vikings also have the High Desert Duals in Lancaster; the Ed Spring Holiday Classic in Brea; the Tournament of Champions in La Habra; the Juan Enriquez Memorial tournament in Norwalk; and the Willemstine Classic in Ontario.
Following the regular season, the Vikings will prepare for the individual postseason. Peterson said he’ll be leaning on his coaching staff to prepare his wrestlers for what can be grueling month of wrestling in February, and he has a new coach in Chance Rich to help him out there.
Rich, a Valencia alumnus who later wrestled at Cal State Bakersfield and qualified for the NCAA tournament three times, returns to the Valencia program with a bevy of experience. Peterson is hopeful that other former Viking wrestlers will follow his path and help rebuild the program.
Also returning as coaches are Patty Pearson, Neil Jones and Anton Kalista.
Expectations may not be where Peterson would like them to be for his program this year, but he’s looking forward to seeing the growth and if his younger wrestlers can build up to be competitive in the next couple of years.
“I know that (the league is) tough and I know they work, but I just believe in what we do here and we just need the numbers,” Peterson said. “As long as we have the numbers, we’re gonna be the best. And now that we have the numbers, it’s just gonna take us a couple of years to get good.”