Wrestling isn’t an idea or myth or spectacle.
At Camarillo High, the wrestling room is a sanctuary, a home, a family. It is a real place away from the real world.
Last year, head coach Ron Wilson’s mother, Emma, died. The coach broke down in tears in front of his wrestlers, telling them “You’re my family now.”
Chase Varney, a senior wrestler, died in October at age 17. Teammates end each practice in a huddle, chanting his name.
The Scorpions have endured unbearable tragedy, but they’ve gained immeasurable strength by turning to each other, lifting each other up as one. Wrestling is an individual sport, but when a grappler takes the mat, it feels like every Scorpion joins the battle.
Sydney Santillano, who was bullied in elementary school, has found a second home in Camarillo’s wrestling room.
“She looks like a teddy bear, but she’s tough,” junior Nicole Joseph said. “She’s a powerful woman.”
Santillano, 18, pummels her adversaries, making foes squirm in her renowned headlocks. There is no malice, however, when she wrestles. She doesn’t seek the James Brown big payback or Charles Bronson revenge.
“She’s got the biggest heart,” Wilson said. “She’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever known.”
Don’t get the coach wrong— Santillano is still a formidable competitor on the mat.
“She works hard,” Wilson said, “and she’s always willing to learn new stuff. She gets better and better every year.”
Santillano is one of the finest wrestlers in California.
She placed third at the CIF State Girls Wrestling Championships last season. She’s a contender to secure gold at 235 this year.
The senior, who won four of five matches by pin against boys this year, took first place at the CIF-Southern Section Northern Division regional last weekend at Pioneer Valley. Joseph, who notched eighth place at state in 2014, won a title at 121, while freshman Juliette “Spike” Molenhouse took fifth at 101.
The trio will compete at Masters today and Saturday at Roosevelt High in Corona. The girls’ state tournament is Feb. 27 and 28 at the Visalia Convention Center.
Santillano is hitting her stride this postseason.
“I’m feeling confident,” Santillano said. “Half the girls I’ve wrestled. I know what my strategy is. Last year I was nervous. This year, I know how it’s all going to go. . . . I wrestle guys in practice. That builds me up. If I practice good, I wrestle good.”
The Scorpion, who wins most of her bouts by pin, explained why she loves using headlocks.
“I feel like I have control over them,” she said. “They can’t really do anything without their head.”
Santillano rode horses for 10 years, but when King’s Arabians ranch in Somis closed, Santillano stopped being active. She didn’t participate in a sport her first year of high school.
The Scorpion joined the wrestling team her sophomore year, with encouragement from Wilson and her friend April Mondragon.
“I was kind of shocked. I thought it was only a boys’ sport,” said Shannon Santillano, the wrestler’s mother.
“I thought she’d pick softball.”
Shannon Santillano cries after every one of her daughter’s wins.
“I’m so proud of her,” she said. “She’s disciplined. She’s very compassionate. She’s very fair.
“She’s an amazing young woman.”
The wrestler’s grandparents Helen and Karl Dobler, her aunt Kimberly Wilson, her great-uncle Frank Wilson and her 8-year-old cousin Ava Stassart also attend matches.
The sport runs in Santillano’s family: Frank Wilson and his brother Clarence were state champion wrestlers in Illinois. Santillano’s father is Mark; her brother Sean, 22, is a Camarillo grad.
Santillano shares a bond with her fellow Scorpions.
“I love the team,” she said. “I love the coaches. Our practices are hard, but what you put in, you get out 10 times better. Each teammate is like a coach, too. When you wrestle, they cheer for you. We’re always there for one another.
“You’re never alone. You always have great support.”
Santillano has never been scared to wrestle boys; she was more nervous about not knowing anything when she started. She soaked up knowledge from her coaches, including Matt Hickman.
She is driven to excel, to succeed, to win.
“Yes, this is hard,” she said, “but tomorrow I’m going to do better.
“I’m trying to reach the top, one step at a time.”
SCORPIONS WIN CIF CHAMPIONSHIP
Camarillo High’s wrestling team won the CIF-Southern Section Northern Division championship last weekend at Dos Pueblos High.
The Scorpions defeated Bishop Amat 31-30 in the championship round.
“They never gave up,” head coach Ron Wilson said. “They never had too much stress; they had fun.”
This is the first section crown for Camarillo in program history. The Scorpions reached the finals in 1994, only to fall to Ventura in a close match.
Winning CIF was emotional for Camarillo, which fell behind 23-10 to Bishop Amat. The Scorpions dedicated this season to teammate Chase Varney, who died in October.
“Thinking about Chase, of course, helped us get through,” Wilson said. “They dug in deep, worked hard and supported each other all the way through. That was a pretty big comeback.”
Camarillo defeated Chaminade, Pioneer Valley and Pacifica before upending Bishop Amat.
Johnathan Arreola, Jeremy Montijo and Alec Medina went undefeated on the day.
Vinny Plymire, Logan Watkins and J.P. Castillo also wrestled well.
The Scorpions went 11-2 overall and 3-0 in the Coastal Canyon League during the regular season.
The league champs will compete in the Coastal Canyon tournament at 10 a.m. on Saturday at ACHS.
“These kids are focused,” the coach said. “They have a goal and a dream to do something.”