Chetra Torng and Ricardo Nunez aim to place at this year's CCS Championships. Photo by Robert Eliason.

When Ricardo Nunez was cut from the soccer team in his freshman year, it came as a shock. After all, the San Benito High senior grew up playing the sport, and he had goals to make an impact at the high school level. Turns out, the impact he’s making is in a different sport—wrestling. That’s just fine by Nunez, who entered the week No. 8 in the Central Coast Section 152-pound weight class. Had Nunez made the soccer team, he probably would have never tried out for the wrestling team since both sports are contested in the winter season.

“After I got cut, I knew I didn’t want to just sit around and do nothing,” he said. “So I decided to wrestle and put time in that.”

Junior Chetra Torng is also one of the feel-good stories on the Haybalers this season. He entered the week ranked No. 11 in the 113-pound division, with second-place showings at the Firebaugh Westside and Los Banos Morningstar tournaments.

“Right now I’m wrestling pretty good, and higher than my expectations,” Torng said. “I’ve been putting in a lot more work, and I think that’s why I’m doing good.”

Nunez and Torng have goals to place at the CCS Championships this year, and both gained confidence from their performances at the tournament last year. Nunez went 3-2 and Torng 1-2. For Torng, it was his first appearance in the section championships, and he’s motivated to better that mark this season. Torng was born and raised in Cambodia before he moved to Hollister when he was 8 years old.

At the time, he knew zero English, so the adjustment to a new country was challenging at first. However, Torng was like a sponge, listening and absorbing the language as if his livelihood depended on it. Torng came to America with his older brother and sister; their dad was already living in the states and had gotten a job to financially prepare and move the rest of the family to Hollister.

Nunez said his dad, Adrian, has been a great role model. Ricardo has a 4.17 GPA, and though his parents might not have put an emphasis on getting good grades, Ricardo learned the value of working hard and diligently in everything he did. That’s because Ricardo saw firsthand how hard his dad worked to provide for the family.

“My dad came to the U.S. with nothing, got working and made a name for himself,” Ricardo said. “He found a trade he liked to be an electrician, but started off not knowing anything. But he’s become pretty successful to support our entire family. … My parents didn’t emphasize grades too much, but they told me if I wanted to be in a better situation than they were, that I’d have to try my best in school to get good grades and work hard toward having a better future.”

Adrian always had his three children doing something, stressing discipline, productivity and hard work. Laying around was not an option, especially when dad was home.

“He never let us sit around and do whatever we wanted,” Ricardo said. “We’d have to be active and do stuff to keep us entertained. We did chores around the house all the time. Whenever he got home from a long day at work, he’d have us doing something. He never stopped working, really.”

On the mat, Nunez and Torng are both strong in the neutral position, with Torng having the ability to score points off shots. Nunez said he’s more of a counter striker and methodical, and able to score points when he’s in a defensive position. Both grapplers worked out in the off-season, with Nunez focusing on improving his throws and Torng emphasizing strength-training to get stronger for both wrestling and track and field.

As solid as Torng has been on the mat, his time in track and field has been equally riveting in nature. Last spring in the Pacific Coast League Gabilan Division Championships, Torng came out of nowhere to finish fifth in the pole vault with a mark of 11 feet, 6 inches to smash his previous best by 18 inches. Since San Benito High had no track and field facility to use last year due to construction of the new stadium, Torng was limited to competing in just one dual meet prior to the league championships. In addition, he couldn’t practice because there was no jump pit. It was only during the dual meets and invitational in which Torng got to practice, during the warm-up period.  

“I was very proud of myself for getting a PR (personal-record) with no practice at all,” Torng said. “Somehow, I did good. It’s an adrenaline rush going up 10 to 12 feet and coming back down.”

Nunez felt a tremendous sense of pride when he won the Apple Cider Tournament in Watsonville—and with good reason. He delivered his best performances when it mattered the most, winning his semifinal match 9-7 before coming up with a 6-5 victory in the finals. Nunez was particularly proud of his semifinal match, as he had to be mentally tough to prevail.

“The No. 1 thing that kept me in that match was composure,” he said, “because in that first minute he took me down and I knew I had to get out of it. So I got out and started to work him and got a takedown and two near-falls in the first period.”

Haybalers coach Steven Salcedo said he was proud of both wrestlers, noting how Nunez and Torng do things the right way. Salcedo said Nunez started off the season a bit slow, but gained steam as the season progressed.

“He’s bounced back and had a real strong showing at the Apple Cider and (Los Banos) Morningstar tournaments,” Salcedo said. “In each of those tournaments, he’s done really good. This year Ricardo is doing exactly what I thought he would do. I thought he would be one of our top kids at each tournament, and he’s done that. He’s really technical and is one of those kids who does all the things you’re supposed to do.”

When Nunez won the Apple Cider Tournament, he didn’t realize the enormity of the moment until the awards ceremony. As the winner in his weight class, Nunez literally stood head and shoulders above his competitors on the podium.

“When the referee raised my hand, it didn’t really feel like I accomplished anything because I had just been doing what I normally do to compete in matches,” he said. “I was trying my best, just like any other tournament. But (the gravity of the moment) really kicked in when I was getting the award because I was above everyone else. It made me happy to realize all the work hard I had put in paid off.”

Nunez and Torng both started wrestling when they were in the eighth grade, and they both have two siblings. For Torng, it was love at first grapple. For Nunez, he started to develop a love the sport a couple of years later. Outside of the high school season, Nunez trains with the Hollister Razorbacks, which is also coached by Salcedo. Nunez had a solid showing at the CCS Championships last year, finishing 3-2. This season, he wants to take the next step and place.

“Last year CCS was an up and down battle,” Nunez said. “(Coming off that performance) I knew if I continued to work harder, I would hopefully have a good chance to place this year.”

Torng was drawn to wrestling for a variety of reasons, and it’s taught him discipline, hard work and sacrifice.

“I like the toughness (aspect) of it and how you have to work very hard to get to the top,” he said. “I like the grind of it as well, just working hard everyday.”

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Emanuel Lee primarily covers sports for Weeklys/NewSVMedia's Los Gatan publication. Twenty years of journalism experience and recipient of several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. Emanuel has run eight marathons with a PR of 3:13.40, counts himself as a true disciple of Jesus Christ and loves spending time with his wife and their two lovely daughters, Evangeline and Eliza.


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