Wrestling team tackles COVID-19 restrictions

December 14, 2020

In wrestling, sweat, dirt and blood combine to create a hygienist’s worst nightmare – not an ideal situation during a pandemic. However, Redwood’s wrestling program was one of the first to have in-person practices, starting early this summer, and has successfully managed to organize COVID-19-safe systems for their athletes. The team has meticulously followed Marin’s guidelines and, despite not being able to physically wrestle, they have found ways to improve their skills, hoping to continue their success in both the Marin County Athletic League (MCAL) and in the Northern Coast Section (NCS) championships. 

The team practices in cohorts of twelve or less people and wear a mask at all times except when running or lifting weights, in which case they are at least six feet apart. Additionally, the team is subject to temperature checks three times a day and are required to report any COVID-19 symptoms to their coaches. In a sport dependent on physical contact, not having the ability to practice the main principle of their sport is not exactly practical. Nonetheless, according to senior Benjamin Olsan, team members have still been able to improve their technique and have become stronger due to the increased cardio and weight training. 

Olsan successfully pins down an opponent during a wrestling match last year. (Photo courtesy of Ben Olsan)

“The people who have taken advantage of this time I think will succeed. A bunch of kids have bought home mats – I personally have one so I can practice and wrestle with my brother,” Olsan said. “Redwood also just started allowing us to go inside with masks on, so now we can ghost wrestle, where we basically just practice on the mat without actually coming in contact with anyone, which really helps us with our technique.”

Redwood’s wrestling program has been successful in the past, winning the MCAL team championships for the past six years and reaching the top 15 of NCS during the 2020 season. Although they are a young team who lost multiple seniors last year, the group has many talented returners such as Olsan who has been on the MCAL first team since his sophomore year. Because of his successes, Olsan has become one of the primary leaders on the team, a particularly important role during the pandemic.

“Normally, I would be organizing offseason workouts for as many kids as possible and helping to lead practices, but I think [I take on a leadership role] this year just by keeping our guys motivated during this time. Since we started up cohorts in the middle of July, it’s been my job to get participation there and make sure everyone follows the necessary guidelines so we can hopefully return to the mats soon,” Olsan said.

After consecutively winning the MCAL title, it has become an expected victory for the team. Now, the primary goal is to place within the top 10 of NCS. According to junior Jean Edward Cerpas, another returning key player who was on the MCAL first team his freshman year, attaining a top spot in NCS comes down to how much effort the team is willing to invest.

“At the end of the day, wrestling is a team sport even though we compete individually. I know we can be as good or better than last year if we just work hard enough, but [getting to the top 10 of NCS] really all depends on if everyone, not just a few of us, are willing to go the extra mile to make sure that we get there, even if that means practicing more on our own,” Cerpas said.

In addition to the physical technique that comes from more practice, according to assistant coach Brittley Tringali, the team needs to focus on the sport’s mental component.

Ben Olsan (right) and members of the wrestling team spending time together pre-pandemic. (Photo courtesy of the Ben Olsan)

“I think a big area for improvement is around our confidence, like our mental preparation going into a competition. Oftentimes, we prioritize our physical attributes, but a lot of it comes down to the psychological and mental aspect,” Tringali said. “I think building their confidence by making sure they trust in the process – in their training, in their coaches and in their teammates – would lead to a really big season for us.”

The time to practice together has created a stronger team bond, according to Tringali, which has also helped to boost their confidence and establish an outlet for the team during the pandemic.

“We are in a really fortunate situation to be having practices and to be able to still spend time with each other,” Tringali said. “That is a big part of what I have come to understand: the connection we make with each other is just as important as the sport. So just being able to spend time with each other and share positive moments and to be able to see progress with our sport has allowed our athletes to really come together and stay positive during these unprecedented times.”

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