The Spanish Springs wrestling program and the Reed football program have something in common. They are used to winning. A lot.
The Raiders won their fifth straight regional title in November. It was their sixth in seven years. The Cougars have also won six of the last seven regional titles. This year, they are in a good spot to win their seventh in the last eight.
“We have to add on,” Spanish Springs coach Joe Imelli said. “We have to keep growing the program and the expectations of the program.”
The Cougars lost a trio of top-three placers at last year’s regional tournament to graduation last spring (Jake Griffen, third at 132, Jake Sylvester, third at 170, and Conner Hendricks, second at 285+) but return six who placed at last year’s DI North regional meet.
That list is highlighted by Jacob Ruiz, the defending DI North champion at 106 pounds, Blake Boswell, the defending DI North champ at 138, Cole Drescher, last year’s regional runner up at 152 and Casey Preston, the defending DI North runner up at 182.
“We have some guys that really have been doing a pretty good job,” Imelli said.
With so much experienced talent, the Cougars went to the Cody Louk Invitational earlier this season and finished first for the first time in nearly six tries. Perennially strong programs, Carson, Reno and Lowry are among the participants annually and Imelli said the win showed a sign of progress for the program.
“It’s always a great showing when you can go in and compete with those teams and ultimately end up winning the tournament,” Spanish Springs’ 10th year coach said.
Last weekend, the Cougars finished fifth out of 52 teams at the Joe Rios Memorial Tournament in Chico while down three starters.
But like the Reed football program, Spanish Springs hasn’t had much success behind the regional tournament. The best the Cougs have done at state is a tie for fourth in 2014. Last year, Imelli’s squad finished fifth.
Knowing the potential for this year’s team, the relative struggles at state have been discussed.
“We’ve talked to the kids a little bit more about our mindset. Because I don’t know if it was on me, or what not, you know? Our mindset of just being happy with regionals,” Imelli said. “So they understand there’s a little bit more accountability on them now to make sure we are wrestling through the full season and not just up through regionals.”
Finishing no better than fourth at the state meet, there are a handful of programs that have gotten in the way of Spanish Springs’ first state title, namely Green Valley. The Gators will attempt to win their fifth straight state title this winter.
But Spanish Springs got a shot of affirmation earlier this season at the Reno Tournament of Champions—a national tournament that had 107 programs participate this year.
The Cougars tied with the Gators for 22nd place—the highest finish by a Nevada school.
“That got the look in our kids’ eyes, ‘hey, we can compete with Green Valley—who has been the elite in our state for a while,’” Imelli said. “They’re kind of along the lines of Gorman football (seven straight state titles).”
However, before the Cougars can make a run at their first state title, or push for their seventh regional title in eight years, they have to get through their five High Desert League duals.
They are 1-0 in league duals this year with an 84-0 win over Hug, the largest possible difference.
They continue the slate on Wednesday night for a highly anticipated dual at Reno. The Huskies finished second in last year’s regional meet behind the Cougars.
“That should be a pretty good dual,” Imelli said. “We always anticipate that one.”
And for now, they continue to anticipate the first state title. Perhaps that anticipation will come to fruition in February.