Muffler shops smell better than this place.
Girlfriends keep their distance and team moms wait outside, where they can breathe without gasping.
And that’s OK, because the Folsom High School wrestlers embrace the scent of sweat that permeates their team room. Photos and plaques adorn the walls, a reminder of the success that can come from working hard.
Above the exit doors, a large black-and-white photograph of wrestling great Dan Gable includes his autograph and this: “To the Folsom wrestlers – make your best happen through hard work.”
After hundreds of hours in a fortress without open-air windows – perfecting moves, making weight, bonding – Folsom is the best team in the Sac-Joaquin Section.
And no one holds their nose to that.
“Yeah, this place smells, but you know what? I almost like it,” said Nick Fiegener, 42-1 and the state’s top-ranked 182-pounder.
The team room is a showcase for the program’s success. It includes Folsom’s first section champion, Richard Morrison, 50 years ago and All-America certificates for current stars Fiegener and Lorenzo De La Riva, who took a breather Monday to collect themselves, hands on knees, sweat falling off their chins in a steady drip.
Monday, Folsom’s wrestlers admired the newest addition on the wall, a large blue Sac-Joaquin Section team championship banner, earned by upsetting four-time defending Division I champion Vacaville 34-25 Saturday.
“Vacaville has been like the De La Salle of football forever, the gold standard,” Folsom coach Mike Collier said. “This was a huge moment for us, our greatest. But we want more.”
There will be plenty of chances, with the postseason moving into the individual events, culminating with the CIF State Championships in Bakersfield on March 7-8.
Here’s how far Folsom has come in 12 months: Vacaville whipped the Bulldogs 54-18 in the 2013 finals.
The section team titles was a first for Folsom, and it fits in with the school’s athletic success. The football team has won back-to-back section championships with 14-1 records, and the basketball team is ranked No. 2 by The Bee.
Collier competed at Fairfield High in the early 1990s, in a league with Vacaville, so he’s had a score to settle for 20 years. Collier, a UC Davis graduate who has been Folsom’s coach since 2005, holds active practices, but he keeps things loose with humor. It’s not uncommon for a dodge ball game to break out.
“We’re having a lot of fun, but we know there’s more work to do, more matches, more goals,” Collier said.
Wrestling is unique as a team sport that spotlights individual performance. In title matches, a wrestler is alone in a circle, one on one against an opponent.
“We tell kids that it is a team and individual sport, 14 weight classes, and room for everyone to make a difference,” Collier said. “That’s the beauty of it. Whether you’re 100 pounds or 300 or in between, there’s a spot for you if you’re willing to sweat and work.
“And when you’re on the mat, you can’t blame what happens on a lineman missing his block or a point guard not getting you the ball. It’s just you. Either you get it done or you don’t.”
The Bulldogs have been getting it done, led by Fiegener, a powerfully built senior with extra motivation. After losing in the state finals at 160 pounds last season, he spent his offseason bulking up with weightlifting and conditioning work. Fiegener still is a technician, only a much stronger one. The four-time All-American is headed to Cal Poly on scholarship to study finance.
“My goal,” Fiegener said, “is to get to the state championship, win it with a dominant feeling, under the lights. It’s nice to be No. 1 in the state, but it’s almost more stressful. Everyone is trying to take your head off.”
Fiegener was induced into wrestling. He badly wanted a puppy, and his parents wanted him to try a sport. How about wrestling, a puppy for a singlet?
“I got a golden retriever, named Chico, and fell in love with the sport,” Fiegener said.
The team’s other star, De La Riva, is 38-5, top-ranked in the section and No. 3 in the state. A year ago, he was the first Folsom sophomore to place in the state meet, coming in sixth.
“We’ve worked hard,” De La Riva said. “Beating Vacaville was an amazing feeling. We were freaking-out excited, even coach. Coach Collier has brought this all together. He’s built this team. He wants us to work, to sweat, and we have.”
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