Atascadero set to win first league title in nearly a decade
ATASCADERO — The Atascadero Greyhounds wrestling team is in position to win a league title for the first time in a nearly a decade and will look to do so on Wednesday night in their final Ocean League dual against St. Joseph. Atascadero is 4-1 in dual meets this season including 3-0 in the Ocean League and getting better every day under first year head coach Sohrab Movahedi.
Atascadero entered this season with high hopes of building the program back to the dominance of 10 years ago but after a few meets found themselves far ahead of schedule. The Greyhounds dropped their first dual of the year at home to the Bearcats but have since gone undefeated, including a big win over Morro Bay on Wednesday night, 39-31.
There are many reasons for the teams’ success but everyone around the program seems to point to two main things: The size of the program and the amount of the new, young, hungry, athletic wrestlers picking up the sport, paired with the leadership and development of their core four seniors in Zerek Brown (126 pounds), Cael Cooper (138 pounds), Alex Chavez (160 pounds) and Brendan Haydon (heavyweight).
“I think it’s numbers — we’ve got more younger kids that are hungry and that are ready to wrestle this year than we have had in the past,” Cooper said. “ I think we ended last season with 12 wrestlers which isn’t even enough to have a full team. This year we have a lot of younger guys that are showing a lot of potential and having us have the opportunity to let this program build and show those guys the ropes and show them what a good work ethic looks like and showing them how to be confident in how you wrestle, is really inspiring because you can really see how the program is on an upward trend.”
Paso Robles beat the Greyhounds 49-30, scoring pins in eight of the 14 weight classes on Dec. 4 and it served as a turning point in the season. Atascadero was also without their heavyweight on that night in early December and his emergence has been a key part of going undefeated in league thus far.
“Brendan has really come a long way,” Movahedi said. “He was doing some other extracurricular stuff in the beginning and missed the first few things and struggled a little bit but we’ve worked hard on certain heavyweight positions with Carson [Brander] and they have worked really hard together and he has just come a really long way. He is wrestling really smart right now.”
After Paso Robles, the Hounds made their rounds to various wrestling tournaments throughout the State and started to realize they had what it takes to grapple with some of the best around. While the seniors Chavez, Brown and Cooper were able to advance and place at prestigious meets, they were also, simultaneously, passing down their years of knowledge to the younger wrestlers coming up through the program.
“When we were freshman and underclassmen, there weren’t a ton of upperclassmen guys to mentor us and show us how to be good wrestlers,” Cooper said.
“It is really fun being with the younger guys because you get to watch them grow throughout the season,” Chavez added. “And especially with the younger guys, you can really see the difference from when they walked into the room and didn’t know anything and you taught them basically everything that they know and you get to pass on that knowledge
After the tournament season ended the Hounds dove back into dual meets and haven’t been beaten since. Atascadero opened the Ocean League season with a thrilling dual against San Luis Obispo that came down to the very last match with all eyes once again on Haydon. The Tigers and Greyhounds entered the 14th and final match of the dual down three points and in the second round Haydon earned the pin and the win.
While the seniors teach the young wrestlers, Movahedi has had time to work with seniors, especially the ones around his weight class and impart some of the wisdom he acquired while compiling a 55-5 record his senior year of high school.
“It is really nice, especially for Sean [Hall] and I, because we are both middleweight guys and he is really good with the middleweight guys and he has a lot of stuff that is directed towards us,” Chavez said. “Not only that, he is also good with the little guys. He really just has a lot of knowledge and is very enthusiastic so it helps out a lot of people.”
Atascadero then faced Santa Maria in another tough dual and led by their seniors pulled out a 39-31 victory and started believing they could win the league. On Jan. 22, Atascadero traveled to Nipomo and left with a 49-28 victory and a three-match winning streak.
Earlier this week, the Greyhounds made the trip to Morro Bay to measure themselves once again against a Mountain League opponent and showcased all that they have learned and earned, leading to a surprising 39-31 victory.
“I’m excited to see my guys score points,” Movahedi said. “I always tell my guys that I don’t care about the outcomes of matches I just want to see them go out there, shake hands and then try and score as many points as they possibly can and then we will see guys beat guys that they aren’t supposed to beat.”
Wednesday, the Hounds will travel to Santa Maria for their final dual against the last-place Knights. With a victory, Atascadero will be the undefeated Ocean League champions, their first league championship since 2011 in the PAC 7.