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Panthers hope to make a mark

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Posted: Wednesday, January 10, 2018 1:30 pm

For the first time in his 20 years as the Peninsula High wrestling coach, Mike Liebig is dealing with something he’s rather unfamiliar with: low numbers.

“We’re under 30 kids, and that’s the least number I’ve coached in 35 years,” Liebig said. “(Over the years), the culture has changed. There are fewer kids that play football because of concussions, and you have kids now that watch people play video games.”

Needless to say, that isn’t stopping those on the Panthers from showing Liebig their commitment to the sport.

Junior heavyweight Zack Denney is one who has shown just how committed he is. After wrapping up the 2017 football season, Denney transitioned to wrestling rather seamlessly. He noted the two sports go hand-in-hand.

“Wrestling uses muscle groups you didn’t know you had, and it’s about staying more controlled,” said Denney, who lines up on the offensive and defensive lines on the football field. “Football is a lot of first contact and pushing (your opponent) back.”

Denney placed third in his weight class at the John Glenn Tournament Dec. 9.

Junior Steven Erickson began wrestling in the 106-pound class his freshman year, and learned quickly what he needed to do in order to win matches.

“I had to develop my speed and find ways to beat people without using my strength,” said Erickson, who now wrestles in the 120-class. Erickson placed second in his class at the Glenn Tournament.

Erickson is not one to shy away from saying how much of a commitment wrestling takes, but he knows its possible. Erickson currently has a 4.10 GPA.

“Wrestling is really hard, and it takes a lot of commitment,” he said. “It taught me how to stick with things, keep working hard and put your best effort in.”

That commitment was on display during the Mann Classic Wrestling Tournament Dec. 15-16 in Huntington Beach. While he took seventh place in his weight division, Erickson knew giving up was not an option.

“That was a really hard tournament,” Erickson said. “I still fought back to get seventh, but I had to wrestle 100 percent in order to place.”

For many on the outside looking in, wrestling may seem like a purely individual sport, similar to golf or tennis. But Erickson is a firm believer that you need your team just as much in wrestling as you do in any other sport.

“To most people, its an individual spots because you’re on the mat by yourself,” Erickson said. “But you’re there to cheer each other on, and you grown to get better as a team. You really rely on one another.”

What wrestling has done for junior Diego Sheng is show him just how much his body can take.

“I’ve learned my limit is a lot higher than I thought, and that you can push yourself past said limits,” Sheng said. “The closest bonds I think you can have are you and your team doing the tough things.”

Sheng was named Peninsula’s captain for the 2017-18 season by Liebig, and initially he was unsure as to why the honor was bestowed upon him.

“At first, I thought it was a high burden,” Sheng said. “But then I started to see why coach picked me, and it changed my attitude. He saw I was being consistent, and working to show up as much as I could despite injuries or illnesses.”

Sheng is looking to improve on last years results. After failing to qualify for the CIF Southern Section postseason as a sophomore, he’s hopeful his work ethic will push him deeper this year.

“I hope to get to the Masters meet, place there, and get to the state meet,” Sheng said. “It’s going to take a lot of consistency and practicing things I’m not good at.”

Sheng has seen others step up to the call not only in the wrestling room, but in meets as well. Daniel Ahn (126) has showed more leadership, in Sheng’s eyes, and has been staying more consistent. Robert Peltakovo, who wrestles at 152 or 160 pounds, is someone Sheng feels is a good example to everyone.

“He came in last year and is wrestling like he started his freshman year,” Sheng said. “He’s been working really hard and improving.”

Isaac Aguirre is the lone senior on Peninsula’s squad, and is the defending Bay League champion at 115 pounds. Liebig said Aguirre “has been going to camps and working with different clubs.”

With all the work the wrestlers have put in over the last few months, Liebig is hopeful it will translate into success not only at the league level, but at CIF and beyond.

“Hopefully they’ll be able to hold it together through the postseason,” Liebig said. “Maybe they can do something the third week of February (at the CIF Southern Section meet).”

Welcome to the discussion.