“It doesn’t help if you don’t run it hard,” he urges some.
“I know you’re tired, but it’s like the third period and you’re down by two points and I need you to score two points,” he exhorts others.
The Centurions have won six of the last seven Western League titles, so something is working. Hernandez, in his fifth year, has led his team to championships in three of the last four years. Before that, UCHS won three in a row.
Back in the Activity Room behind the gym, 18 pairs – including the twins, juniors Rebecca and Vanessa Rogers – work on moves on each of their respective circles marked on the mat.
Hernandez has two wrestlers demonstrate a move, then everybody claps once, “no talking,” and all 36 immediately move into practicing the move as pairs.
“Only so much can come from me,” Hernandez asserts in explaining the roles of senior captains Skyler Phillips and Kody Renly. “Skyler brings a lot of veteran leadership to our team. He’s been injured. During that time, I don’t want to say the team has been rudderless. (But) he’s the heart. He feels the pulse of the team. He tells me, ‘You’re working them too hard,’ or, ‘You’re not working them hard enough.’”
Behind Phillips and Renly are a core of juniors: returning CIF placers Dusty Carr (112 pounds), Kevin Chen (184), and Tanner Kocher (105). Also, Jacob Figueroa (220), Matthew Fernandez (132), and Andres Miera (285).
Regarding Renly, Hernandez says, “He’s very quiet. But when he says something, the others listen. He’s the one the kids rally around.”
Says Kody, who wrestles at 195 pounds, “[I enjoy] the hard work. It really pays off. All the hours we put in during the week, then we show off on the weekends. Because we see the same wrestlers at all the events, so if we lose one week, we work during the next week on how to beat them, then we do it.”
Skyler, a 170-pounder whose goal is to serve as a policeman, says, “I’m a hands-on learner. I have to do things over and over to learn. I do that in wrestling, and in ceramics class. I like being able to build stuff with my hands. It’s relaxing, and (I like) being able to make things I can use. I’m making a coffee mug right now. I made a whistle – an ‘ocarina’, domed with a flat bottom. It actually works. My ceramics instructor gave me the idea.”
Phillips describes the “inner game” on the mat: “Stay calm and focused, because if you go crazy you make mistakes. Wrestling is a sport of reactions. You’re instigating. Depending on your opponent’s reaction, you react. I get my opponent moving. You circle the opposite way to the (opponent’s) foot you want to grab (example: move right to take his left foot). I time it, and take the shot.”