Rio Mesa wrestlers getting defensive

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Rio Mesa High’s Junior Ontiveros, left, wraps up teammate Darrin Salazar during Monday’s practice at RMHS. © Bill Sparkes/Acorn Newspapers
The Spartans are back.

Rio Mesa High’s wrestling team had fewer than 10 wrestlers three years ago.

Times were tough.

Juan Flores took over his alma mater’s struggling program. In only his second year on the job, Flores guided the Spartans to a Pacific View League championship in 2009-10.

“We rebuilt the team,” Flores said.

There are 60 grapplers working hard in the wrestling room these days. The present—and future— is bright for Rio Mesa.

The Spartans, 9-1 in dual meets, open Pacific View action Wednesday at home against Camarillo.

Rio Mesa, Camarillo and Oxnard are expected to tussle for league hardware this year.

Camarillo has balance up and down the lineup. Oxnard boasts a strong senior core. So what do the Spartans have going?

“We’ve got fire,” Flores said. “We want to protect what we’ve built.”

With nine returning varsity grapplers and only two seniors, Rio Mesa is primed to remain a contender for years.

Junior Ontiveros leads the charge for RMHS.

The senior, who grapples in the 125- and 130-pound weight classes, is a tough out for any adversary. He’s a two-time league tournament finalist.

“He’s our workhorse,” the coach said of Ontiveros.

“He’s the kid who will run every single on his own during Christmas break. He actually lost weight during Christmas week. He’s by far our most dedicated wrestler.”

A four-year varsity wrestler, Ontiveros isn’t afraid to dial up the intensity.

“We’ve got to keep working harder,” he said, “and keep our aggressiveness going.”

Ontiveros has spent time shooting and dictating the pace of matches. Instead of countering, the Spartan tries to make the first move and score the first points.

A tireless worker, he takes pride in staying fresh for all three rounds and wearing out his opponents.

One spot away from placing at the CIF-Southern Section finals, Ontiveros strives to reach the Masters tournament and qualify for the state tournament in Bakersfield.

The senior, who played five years of youth football before getting bored with the sport, has also taken responsibility for developing younger wrestlers in the room.

“I’m working with the junior varsity guys,” Ontiveros said. “I’m going to be gone soon. They’re going to be the ones on top.”

Although he’d like to wrestle in college, possibly at Fresno State, Ontiveros said education is his top priority. He wants to attend medical school and become a doctor.

“I like a good challenge all the time,” he said.

Darrin Salazar is the other senior on board.

“He’s by far our most athletic wrestler,” Flores said of Salazar.

A league finalist last season, Salazar played football and baseball as a freshman. He competes at 119 and 125 pounds.

For Rio Mesa to remain at the top, the team needs to stay vigilant, Salazar said.

“Things are going pretty good so far,” the grappler said. “In league, I want everyone to make weight and wrestle smart.”

The Spartan spent this offseason working on his technique and conditioning. He uses his athleticism to rack up points and wear out foes.

Joseph Ramirez, a 215-pound junior, is the team captain.

“He’s a good kid,” the coach said of Ramirez. “He brings the kids together and he leads by example. He works hard to bring up the team camaraderie.”

The Spartans have received a jolt from junior heavyweight Andres Ochoa.

A JV champ last year, Ochoa started this season 16-2. One of his setbacks was a one-point overtime loss to the No. 4 heavyweight in the state at the Newbury Park Invitational Wrestling Tournament earlier this month.

Michael Gabrie, a 135-pound junior, was one match away from reaching Masters last year.

Aaron Largey (152 pounds) and Cody Herman (189) are returning league finalists who add depth to the lineup. Justin Kelly, a JV champion last year, is a threat at 171.

Juan Flores and assistant coaches Tony Flores and Mike Kildee wrestled on the same Rio Mesa team in the late 1980s.

Former head coach Todd Stokes, a mentor to the current coaching staff, is expected to help out later this season.

Rio Mesa still has its work cut out, Juan Flores said.

“We’re trying to create balance in our lineup,” he said. “The strongest teams have depth from 103s to heavyweights. We’re stacked up in the same weight classes. Balance is what wins league championships. . . .

“We’re focused. We want to defend our title.”

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