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Coach Looking To Rejuvenate Wrestling Program
From a distance, Riverbank High wrestling coach Kevin Hejnal bears an eerie resemblance to martial arts expert, Chuck Norris.

But Hejnal doesn't spend his days delivering spinning back kicks to the face or laying down marshal law.

Instead, he teaches and coaches wrestling at RHS, where the Bruin wrestling program is steadily building to become a force in the Trans-Valley League.

With improved numbers and wrestlers back for Hejnal's second year with the whistle, Riverbank is showing certain signs of improvement for a Bruin sport that has traditionally lacked in both participation and dual meet success.

"For me it's one step at a time," Hejnal said. "I am really looking forward to coaching them and practicing every day to get one step farther to seeing them grow as wrestlers and as people."

The longtime grappler and coach carries an impressive résumé of experience, and looks to be the perfect man to turn around a Bruin program that routinely struggles against longtime TVL powers such as Escalon, Hughson, and Ripon.

He's already seen improvements from where the squad was a year ago, evident at the Ronald C. McNair Wrestling Tournament on Saturday, where returning state qualifiers and local standouts waged their first official matches of the season.

In that field, the Bruins managed to snare two medals and a handful of tough wins. It's an impressive feat considering last year the team won just two matches at the same tourney.

Isaiah Amaya (191 pounds) and Javier Gaxiola (287) both won big matches to advance deeper into the tournament and settled for fourth place medals.

First-year senior Seth Munoz didn't medal at 154 pounds, but he gave his opponents all they could handle in a 2-2 run through tourney action.

"Overall I was pretty pleased with how we did in the tournament," Hejnal said. "We brought five guys who had never wrestled a match before and it was good experience for them to get their feet wet."

Hejnal comes from a coaching background that started with his first gig in 1979. He's been an assistant coach at UC Davis, was San Jose State's head coach in 1998 and spent seven years assisting Modesto Junior College grapplers from 1994 to 2001.

It's all experience hugely beneficial to a Bruin program on the rise.

"This year I want to win a couple dual meets and do better in the league tournament," Hejnal said. "This is a five year plan to get things going, and I'm expecting to get maybe 30 to 40 kids out for the team."

Nearly 20 grapplers signed up for this season, and nine varsity competitors made the trip to Stockton for the McNair tournament Saturday.

Returning Sac-Joaquin Section Division V qualifier, Angel Duarte (171), and cross country standout Ben Hodges (145) were unable to make the trip, but the two have plans to be a big part of Riverbank's success as they wage battle against TVL programs this season.

The team hosts Patterson today (Wednesday, Dec. 9) at 6 p.m., and open league action with Denair on Dec. 16.

"This is a strong area for wrestling, and teams like Escalon and Hughson have had numerous state champions," Hejnal said. "It's a good league to be in, and it's going to take us a while to get up to that level, but eventually we will get there.

"The fact is that if these kids can wrestle they can do anything in their life if they put their mind to it."