The Aptos High wrestling team is ready to compete in the SCAAL and various other tournaments this upcoming season. (contributed)

APTOS—The Aptos High wrestling team is still overcoming the low turnout of wrestlers after nearly three years since the Covid-19 pandemic first broke.  

So, when the Mariners began their season with substantially more athletes than the previous year, the primary objective for head coach Rudy Guzman this season was to maintain these high numbers.

“The goal is always to grow the numbers, so right now going into the season we’re keeping the numbers,” Guzman said. “We have winter break and that’s the killer. Kids just disappear, so for me these last five weeks is to have them fall in love with the sport.”

This year’s Aptos group has about 30 new wrestlers and 11 returners, including junior Janie Houser and senior Andrew Acevedo.

Acevedo– who last year competed in the 126-pound division –was runner-up to league champion Daniel Evert of Santa Cruz.

Acevedo helped the Mariners boys’ team win the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League title last season, slightly edging out Santa Cruz High.

He’s off to a great start after a successful run at the 55th annual Peninsula Invitational where he took second in the 132-pound weight class. He lost to Alvarez High freshman Jacob Perez in the championship round. 

“Me and the guy I wrestled are rivals, and I feel like every time we compete we’re better,” Perez said. “I’m really excited to wrestle him in the future.”

Acevedo may get another chance to compete against Perez at the Pat Lovell Holiday Classic Tournament at Aptos High on Dec. 27-28.

Houser had a remarkable sophomore season after qualifying for the Central Coast Section Wrestling Championships. But she remains determined to improve at every chance she can get.

“I feel like I’m capable of placing at state this year unlike last year, and placing higher at CCS,” she said.

Houser– who was ranked 29th in the nation during the offseason –started off the year by winning her first tournament of the season.

She went 4-0 in the 137-pound division at the 13th Annual Lady Royals at Overfelt High, earning her fourth career first place victory.

“I’m proud that I got first at that first tournament,” Houser said. “A lot of people were expecting me to get first, so it felt like a lot of pressure. I’m glad I got a good start to the season.”

She followed up with another first place finish at the 2022 Roger Briones Girls Tournament at Overfelt High School in San Jose.

Houser currently owns a 31-10 overall record and she still has two more seasons to represent Aptos at the highest level. 

“She’s motivated to place at state, she’s had an awesome offseason,” Guzman said. “She’s constantly wrestling during the summer. She qualified at Fargo, went to Las Vegas, and placed at a national tournament.”

Acevedo and a majority of the returners are excited to be a part of a large team with different types of experience and skill levels.

“I’m really happy we have this many people,” Acevedo said. “Aptos wrestling is my family, and having more people on the team just means more family for me. They’re always welcome.”

There will undoubtedly be growing pains early on with nearly 75% of the team consisting of first-year wrestlers.

The Mariners’ standard, however, requires consistency and dependability from every one of the athletes to be the best versions of themselves.

“Trying to get everybody on the same page has been challenging, but very rewarding because you see the progression from the new kids,” Guzman said. “The consistency from what I’ve seen on this team is good, they keep coming.”

After winning the SCCAL crown last year, in addition to a much larger group of wrestlers, both the athletes and coaches alike have a sense of optimism with this particular group.

With motivation to improve in addition to the talent the program already has, the Mariners believe they can bring down anybody.

Still, the most important thing for Guzman and his coaching staff is to teach their wrestlers a passion for the sport, and willingness to stick with the program throughout the season.

“If everybody keeps coming consistently, then I think we should have a shot to repeat as league champions,” he said.

The Aptos High wrestling team saw a significant increase during the offseason with up to 30 new wrestlers competing this year. (contributed)
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