It’s been a learning experience for the Firebaugh High wrestling coaches and their young squad.

Or as head coach Bill Magnusson puts it, it’s been “a love affair.”

In his 38 years of coaching Eagle wrestling, Magnusson will be leading his squad this weekend when they host the annual Westside Invitational Tournament. The girls and the JVs will compete on Friday starting at 11 am and the varsity will be this Saturday starting at 9 am.

This year’s Firebaugh squad is made up of six girls and 15 boys.  Among the boys, there are only two seniors, two juniors, and the rest are freshmen and sophomores.

“We are very young,” Magnusson explained. “The thing is with the Covid, we never got to see these boys wrestle at the middle school or in club wrestling. So the coaches are getting to know them and they are getting to know us.  It’s been great, sort of a love affair.”

The “affair” was strengthened over Christmas break when Magnusson puts on his annual Christmas Camp, where former Eagle wrestlers come into the wrestling room to give additional coaching to the team.

This year the guest coaches included brothers Arman Molina Jr. and Esteban Molina. After high school, the brothers ended up wrestling together at Simpson College in Southern California.

“Both graduated from Simpson,” said Magnusson.  Arman is going to enter the Madera Police Academy and Esteban is going into business.  They are the first from their family to graduate from college and wrestling paved the way.”

The coach added that his underclassmen have continually showed improvement, starting with their opening tournament back in December at the Chukchansi Invitational in Madera.

“There were a couple of Clovis schools there and also Los Gatos,” he said. “A few of the top 20 teams in the state were there and we got beat up pretty good. We have this deal if we don’t do well on Friday, we will be out on the football field on Saturday running, and we’ve been doing our share of running.”

The following week at a tournament in Reedley, Firebaugh improved with a sixth place finish out of 20 teams.  Then it was on to the Morningstar Tournament in Los Banos.

“We had 12 wrestlers at Los Banos, as seven took home medals,” said Magnusson.

This year’s squad is led by senior Mason Alaniz, who has placed in three tournaments.  His brother Arren, a sophomore, has also placed in three tournaments.  Another sophomore, Issac Ceja, also placed in three tournaments and made one final.  Sophomore Chris Thomas made it the finals of the Bash where he lost a tough match to his Clovis North opponent. Finally, Sophomore Jordan Fuentes is a returning valley placer and has medaled in two tournaments this year.

“Those sophomores we have are tough,” the coach explained.

This year’s tournament will be dedicated to Marcelino “Chot” Gonzales, a former Firebaugh school board member and president of the Firebaugh Wrestling Club.  He has been running the tournament’s computer room every year since 1987.

David Borboa