The Scorpions wrestle for Chase Varney.
Camarillo High’s wrestling team has dedicated this season to Varney, who died on Oct. 7 at age 17. Varney, who was a senior, grappled for the Scorpions.
The squad finishes each practice by chanting “Chase!” in unison. There will be an empty chair for Varney during Coastal Canyon League duals. In a time of darkness, he has become a light. He inspires his teammates.
“He and I would always compete for varsity spots,” senior Johnathan Arreola said. “We made each other better. He’s who motivated me to be better.”
Jacob Correia, a senior wrestler, was close to Varney. Correia, Varney and a handful of teammates traveled together to San Diego and open freestyle wrestling tournaments in Bakersfield and Fresno last summer.
“He was one of my best friends,” Correia said. “He was a really fun and happy kid. He was hungry all the time. Somehow he’d eat Skittles and lose weight.”
Sydney Santillano, a senior, is one of the best female wrestlers in California. She said Varney always encouraged teammates during matches. Varney wrestled for three years, and he also suited up for the football team. He planned to join the U.S. Marine Corps after high school.
“He was our leader,” she said. “He was a good motivator. He was a good guy.
“ He’ll always be in our hearts.”
Head coach Ron Wilson called Varney’s death “heartbreaking.”
Wilson occasionally drove Varney home after school, before Varney could drive, since they lived near each other. Varney didn’t let a demotion to the junior varsity lineup get him down.
“He placed in league as a sophomore,” the coach said of Varney. “He couldn’t make the lineup as a junior. He never complained. He helped other people get better. He helped all his teammates, even the kids in his weight class.
“We’re going to miss him.”
Camarillo has surged forward despite grappling with heavy hearts.
The Scorpions went 7-2 at the Camarillo 10 Way Invitational. They notched fifth at the Gold Coast Tournament and finished 31st among 70 teams from seven states at the Las Vegas Holiday Classic. Camarillo will compete on Saturday in a tournament at Esperanza of Anaheim. The squad, which placed fifth at the CIF-Southern Section Northern Division finals last year, squares off at Newbury Park on Jan. 15.
Camarillo is focusing on staying healthy after getting banged up at physical tournaments.
“We’re always working on fundamentals and keeping them mentally tough,” said Wilson, who has coached for 35 years, including 23 at Camarillo. “We have a long road ahead because every week gets tougher.”
Vinny Plymire, a senior at 220 pounds, is a beast on the mat. Plymire, an offensive right tackle for the football team, sports a 12-3 record. He won a Pacific View League title last year at 195 pounds, and he reached the Masters tournament. He wants to qualify for state this season.
“ This is a close group,” Plymire said. “We just have to keep working hard. We know Royal’s one of the better teams (in league). We’re working hard to try to beat them.”
Plymire, who will compete in the shot put and discus for the track team in the spring, is an aggressive wrestler who takes shots early in bouts.
“Bad things happen when you wait,” he said. “Be more aggressive than the other guy; that’s my whole mentality.”
Arreola is a standout at 138.
The senior was a football cornerback as a freshman, and he’s wrestled all four years of high school. He took gold at 126 during last year’s league tournament, but he couldn’t keep weight off for the postseason. He’s determined to make a positive impression during this winter’s playoffs.
“Everyone’s motivated this year,” he said. “They want to go as far as they can this year.”
Correia won nine of his first 14 matches. The 145-pound grappler has been wrestling on varsity for three seasons, and he excels at shooting and takedowns from the neutral position. The senior said he takes satisfaction knowing that he won a match because of how hard he worked in practice. He’s volunteered for three years as a coach with the Camarillo Wrestling Club.
Even veterans like Correia must earn their roles in the varsity lineup.
“You have to earn your spot every week,” Correia said. “You always have to protect your spot.”
Santillano, a senior at 235, placed third at the CIF State Girls Wrestling Championships last winter. This year, she won four of her first five matches against junior varsity guys.
April Mondragon, a 2014 ACHS graduate, encouraged Santillano to try the sport. Santillano hit the mat as a sophomore, and she punishes foes with her headlocks and quick submissions.
“Being on the team, you make a lot of good friends,” Santillano said. “It’s not a team but a family.”
Santillano said the key to winning is staying confident and not letting opponents get in her head.
“If they have nice shoes, it doesn’t mean they’re good,” she said. “If they have tattoos, it doesn’t mean they’re good.”
Santillano exorcised demons by pinning Pacifica’s Jennifer Sanderson at the state championships. Sanderson defeated Santillano during every matchup for three years—except when it mattered most.
Junior Nicole Joseph placed eighth at 121 during the girls’ state tournament last season. Joseph grapples at 126 this winter. Sophomore Hannah Hartley (235) and freshman Juliette “ Spike” Molenhouse ( 101) bolster the Scorpion girls’ squad.
Logan Watkins (152), Jacob Dorman (160), Jonathon Castillo (132) and Jason Ramirez (195) are talented seniors. Alec Medina (126) and Darrin Kodama (113) are dynamic juniors. Diego Pena, who wrestled for Wilson at Oxnard, has coached with Wilson for 27 years. Matt Hickman and Dee Mondragon are assistants.
“No matter how you do, even if you lose a match, coaches say you did a great job,” Santillano said. “Our coaches never put us down, and that’s what I love about them.”