SportStars Magazine

Singlets of Summer: Mark Halvorson Leads CYC Nationals

June and July brought no rest of the wrestlers of Concord’s Community Youth Center

When it comes to wins and losses, Mark Halvorson has done enough this year to justify taking an entire summer off.

When he piloted his De La Salle High wrestling team to both a North Coast Section team and dual title in early February and late March, the Spartans’ longtime coach added to an already impressive resumé.

That championship team featured plenty of young stars, ensuring that De La Salle will continue to be the section’s team to beat for the foreseeable future.

But, on one particular summer morning, in which the heat index was climbing steadily in Concord, Halvorson found himself back on the familiar blue mat of the Community Youth Center.

He watched as five of his best wrestlers went through their paces. Some were merely hours removed from a trip to the Cliff Keen West Regionals in Idaho where each got upwards of 20 matches.

Occasionally, Halvorson stepped onto the mat to demonstrate a technique or correct a flaw he’d seen over the weekend, and the instruction took instantly.

Whenever he spoke, each wrestler listened with eyes focused ahead before attempting to put that advice into practice.

In just a few weeks, those lessons will help serve as a blueprint for CYC’s traveling band of mat men at one of the toughest tournaments in the nation.

Those five wrestlers — brothers Nathan and Andrew Cervantez, Adrian Gomez, Donovin Guerrero and Peyton Omania — along with fellow high school standouts Darryl Aiello, Jordan Jimenez and perhaps Guerrero’s younger brother Dwayne, will represent the club at the ASICS/Vaughan Cadet and Junior Nationals from July 18-25 at the FargoDome in Fargo, N.D.

Mark Halvorson Leads CYC wrestling Nationals  This isn’t just a trip to gain experience. After skipping the tournament last year, CYC heads back to Fargo with a strong team built to compete for podium spots.

The lineup starts with Nathan Cervantez, who placed second at the California Interscholastic Federation state championships in March.

Aiello placed third at the meet and Guerrero took fourth while Omania, Gomez and Jimenez all placed at the NCS individual championships.

“We’ve got a pretty good group this year,” Halvorson said. “We haven’t been to Fargo in a couple years because the kids were a little young.

Nate and Andrew went two years ago. Nate was third and Andrew was a match away. I think we’ve got a good shot to be pretty good and be successful back there.”

Once the high school season ends, Halvorson’s group switches its focus.

The wins that piled up while wrestling folkstyle (high school) are replaced by a heightened emphasis on close contact. Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling takes hold, and combatants suddenly have to shift their thinking back to the disciplines that have been featured on the Olympic level for years.

“(It starts) right after state. You get about five days off and you get into Greco,” Guerrero said.

“I like Greco. We mostly train Greco and coach (Halvorson) is a world Greco coach so that’s what we train.”

If there is success to be had in Fargo, count on it being a group celebration. The group  Halvorson is taking this year has been together for as long as each wrestler can remember.

He estimates that Gomez started wrestling at the CYC when he was five, Omania started when he was six. Nathan Cervantez tried wrestling when he was five but didn’t like it much, returned to the sport at age eight and has made it his life ever since.

And, while familiarity in the room has played a part, so has the level of coaching.

Former Alhambra High star Jordan Abed and De La Salle standout Steve Gee are instrumental on a day-to-day basis. But instruction comes not only from the daily grind but also the various international experiences that Halvorson works to create.

Teams from Hungary and Scandinavia visited the CYC in May for the Junior Greco-Roman World Duals, giving the club a chance to perform against some of the world’s best.

CYC coach Mark Halvorson, right, offers pointers during a late-June workout.As CYC has grown in stature throughout Halvorson’s tenure, so has the roster of prominent alums.

Proof of the club’s success is evident at the top of USA Wrestling’s national rankings, where former CYC pupil Robby Smith is the nation’s top-ranked Greco-Roman wrestler at 130 kilograms (286.6 pounds).

Another former CYC standout, Orry Elor, ranks third at 98 kilos (216 lbs).

“The way we’re going right now is great because it’s giving us the chance to fulfill dreams like becoming Olympic champs, World Team champs, World Team trials, everything,” Nathan Cervantez said.

“Knowing someone who came from CYC is at that level now, that’s our role model and that’s where we want to get to.”

Those long-term goals are common among CYC’s best. It’s the reason summer vacation isn’t an option for those heading to Fargo.

Instead, they remain focused and, for those who want to be best in the nation, the work put in on a hot summer morning in Concord could make the difference.

“Going there for the first time was tough because I didn’t know anything about it,” Cervantez said.

“(Coach) Halvorson told me it was a tough tournament and I just went out there and battled. Going back, I want to try and place higher and make it to the finals.

If I don’t, I’ll still be happy with placing but my dream is to be a national champion.”

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