Daniel Hernandez is no stranger to the Peninsula wrestling program, having coached under Mike Liebig up until he stepped away two years ago.
Now, Hernandez has the big job of helping the talented wrestlers in the program gain the experience to not only compete in the rigid Bay League, but among the stacked South Bay area.
"We have a solid foundation of committed wrestlers," Hernandez said. "Wrestling is as much of an individual sport as it can get, but as a team, if you do your job, the team will be successful."
While Hernandez isn't expecting to shock the world by dethroning Mira Costa as league champions, he knows anything is possible on any given day.
"With gaps in our lineup, its going to be tough to get a team win in league," said Hernandez, who graduated from Torrance High in 1997. "I don't think other teams take us seriously, but we might be able to surprise someone."
Currently without a wrestler slotted in the 195 and 220-pound classes and a newcomer in the heavyweight class, Hernandez and Peninsula are reliant on its 11 other classes to help earn the team points.
Peninsula features junior team captains Jessica Ho (116) and Case Gabelich (113), both of whom Hernandez named captains based on their dedication to the program.
"Case always has a positive attitude, and he's a great teammate," Hernandez said. "Jessica has taken on a lot of responsibility."
Hernandez has also been impressed with what he's seen from sophomores Dontae Sheng (172), Kyle Krafick (184) and Jordan Delacruz (138).
"Dontae is a hard worker and he's physically gifted," Hernandez said. "Jordan is a very coachable, hard-working kid, and it shows in his wrestling. Kyle has fallen in love with wrestling and is highly competitive."
Delacruz is one of two new faces in the wrestling room.
He and his family moved to the Palos Verdes area from Alaska, and senior Alex Britton (108) spent the last three years attending Corona Del Mar High.
Having wrestled himself, Hernandez is no stranger to the rigors of recruiting kids into the wrestling room. He's noted that while the football program is supportive of his recruitments, Hernandez has also taken to campus asking those around the school why they're not wrestling.
"I've asked kids to try it out and they've stayed," Hernandez said. "We went from about 20 at the beginning of the school year and we're at 40 right now. You never know when the next league champion is going to walk in."
And he knows the truth behind that.
"The great thing about wrestling is you don't have to be huge," Hernandez said. "You can be tall and lanky, or short and thick. Even a heavier kid can be successful. All programs have proven that."
But it's the foundation the team is setting that Hernandez feels will pay dividends, maybe not this year, but in the near future.
"If this group sticks together, next year will be a lot different," Hernandez said. "The kids will be a year older, and they'll compete at the level we expect them to. This year is definitely a building year, and we're going to create opportunities and take advantage of them."
Even with Liebig now at West Torrance, Hernandez has taken some of the things he learned while coaching with him and kept it in the program.
"Our mantra as a program is three words—commitment, responsibility and integrity," Hernandez said. That's about being committed to the program, being responsible for ourselves and having integrity in our work. Mike was big on those things, and they're not skills, they're personality traits."
While the Panther mantra is key to the success both in and out of the wrestling room, Hernandez knows each wrestler who steps onto the mat must have one thing that cannot be taught: mental toughness.
"Wrestling is a really tough sport, and if you're not prepared, you're going to have a short career," he said.