The Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School wrestling team had a relatively small number of competitors this season, but managed to parlay that into two individual champions and a number of runner-up finishes at the recent Tah-Neva Conference Championships.
"Overall it was a committed team that was light and inexperienced," coach Mark Lilly said. "That said, they made as much improvement in six weeks as any other group I've coached."
Perhaps the most unique story of the season came in the form of 95-pounder Sullivan Cauley.
Cauley rolled through the year, taking championships in every tournament he competed in while compiling a 23-0 record with 11 pins. He won the seventh-grade title in his weight class, not allowing a single point to be scored against him during the tournament, which would have been impressive enough - except for one thing.
He's only in the fifth grade.
"The guys I wrestle against just assume I'm in the seventh-grade," Cauley said. "Sometimes they find out how old I am if they ask, but I don't usually just tell them."
A provision in the Tah-Neva rules allows students to participate at the seventh-grade level beginning in the fifth grade.
Cauley, who has been wrestling for four years, has won the state triple crown (Greco Roman, freestyle and folkstyle) in the Nevada State youth championships and has medaled in a large number of other events along the way.
"I get nervous before every match," he said. "No matter if I've beat the guy 20 times before or if I've never wrestled him, I get nervous."
He is also a standout competitor in Pop Warner football and Little League baseball.
Cauley said he'd like to compete in all three sports once he gets to high school.
So what will it be like once he's finally competing against athletes his own age?
"Nobody knows," Cauley said with a wry smile.
Pau-Wa-Lu Eighth-grader Nick Prudhomme won all three of his tournaments as well, taking the Tah-Neva championship in the 150-pound weight bracket.
He put together a record of 24-2 with 20 pins along the way.
Lilly said Prudhomme came a long way this season, developing into a talented wrestler and a strong leader for the team.
"He was our hardest worker this year and he has really turned things around," Lilly said.
Also turning in strong performances at the championships were eighth-graders Ryan Paiz (160 pounds) and Zach Falanga (heavyweight).
Paiz took second in his weight class and took first and second in two earlier tournaments this season, putting together a 14-3 record with 12 pins along the way.
Falanga took second in each tournament, including the championships, with a 14-4 record and 10 pins on the year.
"Both guys were very close to winning their last two tourneys," Lilly said.
First-year wrestler Austin Martin took second in the seventh-grade 90-pound division, marking his highest finish of the year after two thirds and a fourth on his way to a 19-8 record with eight pins.
David Legaspi had a very strong second half of the season, taking fourth in the eighth-grade 120-pound division and third at the qualifier.
Seth Trivitt put together a 4-1 record on the year in the 90-pound division, but did not compete in the championships due to an injury.
Seventh-grader Dillon Hekhuis also showed strong improvements over the course of the year with a 20-11 record with 16 pins.
Hunter Dohrn had a 13-5 record in the 75-pound division and Blake Murray, Austin Dickey, Steven Campbell, Nate Verela, Cameron Jorgenson, Asher Moody and Grant Mason all had strong seasons for the Panthers as well.
Falanga, Prudhomme and Carson Valley Middle School's Robert Grant competed at the recent WOW tournament in Reno, which drew a number of international entries as well as many of the top wrestlers in the region.
Falanga took sixth in the 13-year-old heavyweight division and Grant took eighth in his division. Prudhomme also had a strong tournament.
Lilly said he and his coaching staff wanted to thank the athletes and their parents for their dedication throughout the season.
He noted Joey Ramos and Ron Dohrn for their coaching assistance and pointed out Ken and Katie Ceglia, Jon Murray, Joanna Lilly, Christina Brown, Nancy Cauley and the Douglas High School administration, the Pau-Wa-Lu administration and staff, the Carson Valley coaches and the Pizza Factory and Pony Espresso for their help with the Panthers' home tournament.
-- Joey Crandall can be reached at email@example.com or at (775) 782-5121, ext. 212.