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Back To The Mat Inexperienced Bruins Rally Around Former Coach
Sixty-two year-old Riverbank High drivers education teacher, Martin Ugalde, thought the 2010-11 school year would pass like any other, and be limited to his duties as a drivers education teacher at the Bruin campus.

But when the departure of two-year Riverbank High wrestling coach, Kevin Hejnal, left Bruin grapplers in dire need of some tutelage, he couldn't resist the chance to visit the mat once again.

The 1965 Sac-Joaquin Section champion, 1972 Junior College state qualifier and six-year Bruin wrestling coach (1992-1998) stepped forward to claim the reins as interim head coach of the 2010-11 Bruin wrestling team in November.

With only a few returning wrestlers and just two seniors, Ugalde won't be looking for any team titles this season, but his grappling knowledge should do wonders for a program mostly comprised of underclassmen and first year wrestlers.

"When I was asked to step in and coach I must have said 'No' at least three to four times," Ugalde said. "I know the drill. I know what you have to give up to coach a program, but in the end I figured I might as well.

"So far the enthusiasm has been really high, and these kids know they could be the start of something good."

Ugalde said 38 Riverbank students made the initial move to join the wrestling team, with around 25 remaining on the roster as the team delves into Trans-Valley League action today, Jan. 5.

Riverbank sent wrestlers to the James Riddle Classic in early December, and enjoyed action across 14 weights in a duel with Denair on Dec. 15. Three Bruins landed victories from that meet, all impressive pins from Mauricio Tovar (152 pounds), Angel Duarte (189) and Alberto Perez (171).

Tovar, Duarte, 135-pound Jesus Carillo and Air Force-bound cross country star Ben Hodges represent the core of Riverbank's top 2009-10 wrestlers back for another season.

The four help keep up the pace at Bruin practices, and enjoy the help of a handful of alumni, including the Bruins' lone SJS Masters qualifier from 2010, Isaiah Amaya.

Hodges was unable to compete in Riverbank's postseason a year ago, but could represent the Bruins' best shot at a fairly deep run in 2011. He sports superb conditioning after a cross country season that saw him qualify for the state championships.

"You can tell Ben is a hard worker, and being conditioned the way he is means his lungs are working really well," Ugalde said. "Now we got him into a rhythm of using more muscle activity than he did running, but he certainly has a jump on the guys who were not running all year."

Tovar (alternate) and Carillo both qualified to attend the Division 5 SJS championships a year ago.

Riverbank also sports three girls on the wrestling roster this season, a first for the Bruin program according to Ugalde. Melissa Garcia, Cynthia Garcia and Jessica Guerrero have all competed this season, with plans to get involved in girls tournaments as the year progresses.

"I let them know right away how tough it was going to be, but they have stuck with it and they really seem to want to learn," Ugalde said. "The harder these girls work the more work I put in to coach them."

Ugalde said he has around five freshmen that he feels could make waves at the varsity level during their careers at RHS. He doesn't know if he will be coaching when they are seniors, but noted he has committed himself to long hours at the Bruin wrestling room for the rest of 2011.

Riverbank opens TVL action today by hosting Orestimba and Modesto Christian in a three-way meet. Varsity action should start at 6:30 p.m.