Sharpening its mental toughness, Folsom is leaving no stone unturned in seeking its first SJS title.
By TREVOR HORN | Contributor
Evidently an old Bulldog can be taught new tricks.
Folsom wrestling coach Mike Collier has been successful on the mat himself at UC Davis and as a coach for the last 15 years. And the 92-year-old school has been a successful program, but is without a Sac-Joaquin Section Master’s title to show for the efforts.
Collier realized that he wanted to add a little something to his team’s preparation. He wanted to work in the mental aspect of the sport along with the strong physical grind the season can put on a high school athlete.
Collier brought in long-time friend and Sacramento City College assistant coach Todd Dilbeck to teach the team some aspects of sports psychology and team building.
It makes sense. In 2012, Folsom finished third at Master’s and 19th in the state. Last season, the Bulldogs were Master’s runner-ups to Vacaville and 14th in the state.
Bringing back a team loaded with talent, including state-ranked No. 1 182-pounder senior Nick Fiegener and juniors Lorenzo De La Riva and Mason Koshiyama, this roster is poised to lead the way toward possibly becoming the greatest team in Folsom history. Collier figured adding a new technique to the mind couldn’t hurt.
“Obviously we work on the physical side of things every day in practice,” Collier said. “But I thought we’d try a new approach. So much of the sport is mental. So just gaining that mental toughness and edge on an opponent could be the difference in getting to the podium at state or getting to state.”
De La Riva placed sixth in the state as a sophomore at 145 pounds last season. Along with Fiegener and Koshiyama at the Walsh Ironman Tournament in Ohio in December, the junior finished in the top-12 at one of the marquee tournaments in the nation.
Adding in the mental preparation has been a key to improving this season, he said.
“It teaches us to calm down before matches and not psyche ourselves out before the match has even started,” De La Riva said. “It gets our mind ready as well as our body.”
FUN LOVING BUNCH
Road trips to weekend tournaments and long days of practice in a small room can harbor tight-knit friendships and bonds between teammates on wrestling teams.
This group, Collier said, may be the closest group he has ever had.
“All wrestling teams are close,” Collier said. “I think these guys are even a little bit more close-knit. It’s an interesting mix. They know when to have fun and enjoy it and they know when to get serious and get after it. It’s a good balance.”
For Koshiyama, it’s remembering when wrestling was just fun, keeping the mood light in order to not over burden themselves with the stress that comes with competing at a high level every week.
“We talk about how fun middle school was and we are trying get that kick back into the room,” Koshiyama said. “We keep things light.”
Collier even mixes things up at practice with games like dodge ball. It’s just another way to physically get a solid workout in without mentally draining his athletes with the mundane activities of everyday practice.
“We are keeping it fun,” De La Riva said. “When you get to a certain level, you can’t focus on just wrestling or you just go crazy. Keeping it fun makes you want to keep wrestling.”
Winning the Master’s title at 160 pounds last season as a junior was a treat for Fiegener. But the loss by way of pin to Isaiah Martinez (a three-time state champion from Lemoore and now at Illinois) took a huge toll on him.
After a conversation with his coach in the offseason, Fiegener decided that the one flaw was his body strength. So he took to the weight room with a laser-focus approach for one reason — to win a state title.
“I was in the weight room every day,” Fiegener said. “I was in the gym before anything else.”
Working out with his brother Ross, a linebacker at Occidental College in Los Angeles, the two set out to get each other bigger and stronger. And that’s just what he did. Collier said coaches routinely come up to him asking what happened because “Nick is huge now.”
“He just felt like he was overpowered,” Collier said of Fiegener’s loss to Martinez. “He was frustrated because if they were of equal strength level, he felt he would have had a chance.
“From that point on, he never wanted to feel like he was going to get physically dominated.”
Now at 182 pounds, Fiegener finished third at Ironman and first at the Doc Buchanan Tournament this month while being named most outstanding upper weight wrestler.
“He’s just so athletic for that weight that it just lets him dominate people,” De La Riva said. “That’s the key for him to win. It’s insane athleticism.”
The Cal Poly commit wouldn’t disagree with his teammate.
“I feel better at 182s than I have at any weight,” Fiegener said. “I’m just more explosive and powerful. I can finish my takedowns quicker. I can get in on people’s legs before they even have time to react.”
His greatest threat to not obtaining a state title is from Corey Griego of Sultana-Hesperia whom Fiegener beat 4-2 in the finals at Doc Buchanan on Jan. 4 in Clovis.
KNOWING THE COMPETITION
The last team not named Vacaville or Oakdale to win a Master’s title was Ponderosa in 2006.
Through the sports psychology and confidence in the team’s ability from all weight classes, a goal was set by the team to become the first Folsom program to take home the banner from Stockton Arena this coming March.
“Vacaville is always the team to beat and this year is no different,” Collier said. “That’s the team we’re chasing. I don’t know if we’re going to be able to beat them, but we are certainly going to give it everything that we have.”
Along with the big three, Folsom is deep throughout with state-qualifier Curtis Booth along with Carlos Alvarez, Josh Lazaro, Connor Watson, Jason Bergquist and Andrew Coyne all giving the Bulldogs a strong chance to obtain that goal.
“We’ve always been saying that this is the year that it all comes together,” De La Riva said.
“It’s all come together. It feels great. I’m honored to be a part of this team.”
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