By Drew Esnard

Photos by Daniel Dreifuss

Four wrestlers at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School earned top rankings at the mid-season Battle of the Valley annual tournament, an indication that the relatively young team is headed for even bigger things.

The SYVUHS gym was swarming Jan. 14 with hundreds of intensely focused, high-energy teenage wrestlers, coaches, and fans and family members.

According to Paolo Aglony, the team’s co-head coach, it was the largest Battle of the Valley yet.

“There are more teams here today than ever before, and they’ve come from as far away as Long Beach and Paso Robles.” he said.

By the end of the two-day event, Richie Sandoval, a freshman who’s consistently ranked among the top 20 high school wrestlers in California, had won first place while juniors Ben Schaeffer and Isaiah Smith each placed fourth and sophomore Emilio Soto took seventh. Overall, the Santa Ynez Pirates wrestling team placed ninth among the 28 participating teams.

With only one senior and a couple of juniors on the team, the large majority of the approximately 35 wrestlers are freshman and sophomores.

Many students join the team with no prior wrestling experience but, with some dedication, pick up the sport rather quickly. However, others arrive with the benefit of having participated in local wrestling camps and programs like Youth Empowered, a local fitness and education youth outreach program operated by Chantalle Castellanos.

Castellanos is also one of three assistant coaches for the Pirates, alongside Zack Tolson and Joey Norcia.

As more kids begin wrestling at an earlier age, Aglony and Co-Head Coach Raul Omar Sandoval have seen the size and strength of the team grow with each new group of incoming freshmen.

As a junior, Ben shares the role of team captain with Richie and Emilio, and he said the team has “really been building up” over the past three seasons.

“We’ve had great coaching, and lots of the guys have been committed to practicing all year-round.” Ben said.

He also plays for the Pirate football team and engages in other recreational sports, and he firmly asserted that wrestling requires a large amount of time and sacrifice.

“It takes a lot more heart than other sports,” he said.