The luminous, air-conditioned North Gym is packed with championship pedigree. The walls are adorned with banners from every conference title team in the history of City College — too many to list. Thirty of those banners, including 17 conference titles and four state championships, belong to the City College wrestling team.
The Life Fitness Center is located on the bottom floor of the gym. Anyone working out there can hear the sounds of booming thuds coming from the wrestlers as they train for those pennants in the room above. The dimly lit, dank and muggy wrestling room reeks of sweat and grit. Not a single wrestler inside is breathing easy. The perspiration flooding the faces of these men is worn like a badge of honor.
This is where the foundation for championship banners is laid, and the hard work has paid off again.
Under head coach Dave Pacheco, the Panthers’ wrestling team won its seventh consecutive Big 8 Conference championship, with a dominant 45-6 dual, Nov. 1 at Sierra College — their 18th overall conference crown.
“If you’d have told me that we’d win seven in a row back when I started in the 1980s,” Pacheco starts, then pauses for a brief moment of reflection. He concludes, “That’s a hard thing to do.”
Pacheco has the history of City College wrestling ingrained in him. Now in his 35th season as head coach, he wrestled for the Panthers from 1976—77. As a student-wrestler, Pacheco had 54 career wins, tied for 18th on City’s all-time list. His 37 victories in 1977 is tied for fifth most in a single season for a Panther.
Pacheco was also an Academic All-American in 1977. Student-athletes can become scholar athletes by maintaining a 3.5 GPA or higher and showing outstanding leadership in their sport or community. According to the team’s webpage, City College has more Academic All-Americans than any other California Community College wrestling program, an accomplishment Pacheco relishes with great satisfaction.
“I take as much pride in that as I do in the athletic part,” says Pacheco. “Our brand is winning in competition, winning in the classroom, and then going on to the four-year level. That’s always our goal. We don’t want them to stop here. Whether they wrestle or just go to school at the four-year level, we don’t just talk about it. We do it.”
The Panthers have consistently done it with a variety of contributors on the mat. City is led by sophomores Morgan Sauseda, Jason Stokkeland and Rob Nickerson, along with freshmen Abel Garcia and Isaac Bertolotto.
“I think we push harder than every team in the state,” says Sauseda, who is ranked second in California at the 125-pound division. “A lot of the other schools have a big recruiting area, and all of us are just hometown guys. We have a lot of work to make up. So, every day we just come in here and work as hard as we can and get after it.”
It doesn’t matter, explains Nickerson, if wins come by double digits, or by one or two points. Nickerson, a City College sophomore, has trained in City’s wrestling room since he was a sophomore at Franklin High School in Elk Grove. He’s the only Panther to win multiple tournaments this season.
“A win is a win at the end of the day,” he said. “What really won those tournaments for me was just wrestling smart, knowing my fundamentals, just going to what’s basic and not try to do anything too risky. Some guys try to go for the instant pin right away.”
As of Oct. 31, eight Panthers ranked among California’s Top 8 in their respective weight classes: Sauseda (125), Trevor Mattox (133), Carlos Alvarez (149), Brian Horn (165), Garcia and Bertolotto (174), Isaac Sillas (184) and Nickerson (197).
Eight more were on the honorable mention list: Enrique Zavala (125), Robert Seronio and Sal Pochiero (141), Stokkeland and Omari Batts (149), Dylan Crawford (157), Daniel Warden (197) and Beau Medicine Crow (285).
Pacheco can take up to 12 wrestlers to the North Regional meet, slated for Dec. 2 at Lassen College. Top qualifiers from the NorCal meet move on to the State Championships Dec. 8—9 at San Joaquin Delta College.
Despite the seventh straight Big 8 banner, the impressive lineup of state-ranked grapplers, and a No. 4 team rank in California, the team says there’s still work to be done.
“It’s just a stepping stone to our real goal, which is winning state,” says Garcia, who leads the Panthers with 26 wins and 38 takedowns. “We’re getting more dialed in to what we need to focus on. We’ve got plenty more to go. We’re ready to roll.”
In the final regular season event, City College will host the annual Sac City Duals Nov. 11 at 10 a.m. inside the North Gym.
Between now and then, they’ll be upstairs in the wrestling room.
For more info on SCC Wrestling, visit http://sccpanthers.losrios.edu/sports/wrest/index