By Eugenio Torrens
Russ Schenk believes it takes about three years to lay a foundation.
Schenk, the athletic director at Sunlake High, is also the school’s wrestling coach with an imposing physique, a military-style haircut and a booming voice.
He has turned around the Seahawks’ wrestling program in his three years and you don’t have to look further than his wrestlers for testimony.
That starts with the notoriety of the program at school.
“Honestly, it’s gotten bigger since he got here,” said senior Wesley Wood. “Before he got here, we didn’t have 40 kids. Now, we do.”
The added exposure the wrestling team is getting not only means a larger turnout to practice, but it means a heightened sense of competition to get mat time.
“You really gotta fight for your spot, because that means you got three other kids behind you that want to wrestle your weight,” Wood said.
Junior John Ortiz, who took sixth place at the Class 2A state tournament last year, said having more kids means more variety in practice.
Ortiz said he used to mainly go against the same kids in practice day in and day out. Now with so many more kids, Ortiz and all the other wrestlers can get a constant barrage of new wrestlers with different strengths.
“Everyone is kind of in the middle,” Ortiz said. “Even the worst kids aren’t that bad. There’s not a lot of differential in skill level. It’s pretty solid. There’s no weak links per se.”
The increased appeal in wrestling has been noted by seasoned veterans on the team who said three years ago, when Schenk took the helm, wrestling was viewed as a secondary sport — an offseason option to stay in shape.
“There’s a good number of kids that this is their sport now,” Ortiz said.
Wood said Schenk’s personality is a big draw for potential Seahawk wrestlers as well.
“He’s not like the coach who’s going to sit there and scream at you,” Wood said. “But he’ll sit there and joke around with you, but when it comes down to it — he’ll make sure you get it right.”
Sunlake competes in the 2A-8 district tournament at Dunedin High on Saturday, Feb. 4 starting at 10 a.m.