When Archbishop Riordan’s Crusader Forum was renovated over the past few years, part of the upgrades to the vaunted old gym included banners hung throughout the rafters to celebrate the school’s league, section and state titles.
Hopefully there’s room to hang a few more. Last week, the Crusaders claimed their first WCAL wrestling title in program history, winning the league meet by knocking off regular-season champion and longtime powerhouse Bellarmine.
“There’s been a lot of parity in the league in recent years,” said head coach Gary Whitehouse. “We’ve started to climb to their level.”
In both 2015 and 2016, the Crusaders split league titles at the freshman and junior varsity levels, but they had never topped all six of their league opponents in the varsity championship meet. They finished Saturday’s meet with 211.5 points, edging out host Bellarmine, who finished with 199. Serra, another dominant program in recent years with head coach Andre Monney, finished in third.
With the Central Coast Section meet scheduled for Saturday at San Jose’s Independence High School, the team could add a few more individual awards to what’s already been a remarkable year. A pair of sophomores, Michael Bigler and Randolph Aberouette, along with senior Gene Aberouette, all won individual titles at last week’s league championships. Bigler is the fifth seed in the 106-pound weight class, so with the top three advancing to the state meet, he’ll need to pull off a couple of upsets in order to qualify.
To account for the natural growth of teenagers, the weight classifications for high school wrestling allow players to exceed the designated weight by two pounds starting in mid-January of each season, meaning Bigler and the rest of his competitors can actually weigh as much as 108.
The elder of the Aberouette brothers enters the meet as the third seed in the 154-pound class. Both he and Bigler will be in divisions with a top seed from Gilroy, a section power since the early 2000s.
Should either of the Riordan boys place in the top three in their classes, they’ll head to Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield on March 2-3. The California state meet is considered the toughest of all state wrestling championships. Not only is the state’s population enormous, there’s only one division for each weight class. While most other sports are split into divisions by enrollment, that isn’t the case for wrestling. Basketball and volleyball each crown six state champions, and football has 13 each year. For wrestling, there’s just one true individual champion at each weight class.
“You have a lot of schools that want more divisions at the state meet, but the old-school guys love it the way it is,” said Whitehouse.
The difficulty of winning a wrestling championship is only increased by the range from which the sport draws its top competitors. While other sports typically find top teams and individuals around Los Angeles and Orange County, top wrestlers have frequently come from the Central Valley, adding to the depth of the field. In fact, the only team to defeat Riordan in a nonleague meet this year was Central of Fresno.
It’s already been an incredible year for the Riordan wrestling program, and adding to the accolades would be no easy feat. But for the smallest school in the WCAL, overcoming the odds is nothing new.
“We don’t have the donor base that other schools in our league do,” said Whitehouse. “Getting the gym renovated was a huge undertaking that needed a ton of support.”
That old gym has already recreated some of its glory through the renovations, and the addition of a few more banners will add to the lore. The question now is just how many more banners can the wrestlers bring?
Prep Focus writer Ethan Kassel covers high school sports throughout the Bay Area. If you have a story tip, game to watch or player to track, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.