After losing 40 athletes to graduation over the past two years, the Santa Ynez High wrestling team is going back to the basics this season.

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The Pirates, who are two years removed from their first Los Padres League team championship, are in the unusual position of having a mostly young and inexperienced roster after two years of senior-laden squads. While the youth this year is striking – there are just two seniors on the varsity team and both of them have just one year of experience – coach Brian Wallace said that doesn’t necessarily signal a drop in the team’s ability to compete.

Usually when people hear the term “rebuilding” applied to a team, they think of losing and struggling to reach postseason or contend for league or CIF titles.

That isn’t the case, however, for this group of wrestlers, according to Wallace.

“I think we’ll be competing at the end of the year to do all those things,” he said, noting that this year’s squad reminds him of his initial Pirates team six years ago that was basically all newcomers. “There’s a lot of young baby-faces on the varsity team, but they’ll be good. They have talent and they’re athletic, and they try hard and come to practice every day.”

So far in this young season, a lot of the practice time has been spent teaching the rules of the sport and basic wrestling moves. Wallace and his group of assistants, including new varsity assistant coach Chris Gonnion, have installed nine moves in the team’s repertoire. Wallace said the staff will probably add five to six more maneuvers throughout the season.

“We’re just gonna keep doing things over and over and over again until they get it right,” he said. Having a mostly young roster of newcomers also has its advantages for the coach, who said that his previous teams would sometimes get caught up in bad habits.

“I like having a lot of new guys, because they don’t know any better and they basically do what you tell them to,” Wallace said, adding that he’s been able to reestablish the “law” this season. “The older guys from last year would clown around more than these guys and it would drive me crazy. These guys, though, they do what they’re told to and they don’t give me a whole lot of [gruff], so that’s great.”

The team is led by a trio of junior captains in Zack Tolson, Clayton Hanly and Canyon Farnsworth. The three are the first non-senior team captains since Wallace took over the program. The senior varsity members, who each began wrestling last season, are Jesus Zarate and Yobani Castillo.

There are 40 total wrestlers in the program, giving the coaches a lot of flexibility when determining starting spots for the 14 weight classes.

The varsity team won its first match of the season, 57-22, at home against San Luis Obispo on Nov. 28. Eight Pirates picked up victories in that match, which was a good early-season test, according to their coach. The junior varsity squad also won against SLO and then had a strong showing in a JV tournament in Santa Maria on Dec. 1. Six Santa Ynez JV wrestlers won their respective weight class in that event. The teams’ next home match will be Dec. 19 against Nipomo.

With so many of this year’s wrestlers still getting acclimated to the sport, Wallace said he is excited to be able to watch the team’s development over the course of the season.

“For this team, we have to put it in perspective, I would say we’re actually ahead of where I thought we’d be,” he said. “Compared to last year or the year before, we’re a little behind, but that just means we’ll get better. Last year’s team kind of hit a plateau at a certain point and never got better. This team will get noticeably better every week.”

The experience of this year should only help the team going forward. That fact certainly isn’t lost on the coaches.

“It’s a little different compared to years past,” Wallace said. “We’ll be really competitive this season and in the postseason, but next year we’re going to be a really, really good team.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean he isn’t excited about this winter. The Pirates have several runner-up finishes in the LPL standings to go along with their league title in 2010-11, and the coach said that nothing is out of his team’s reach this year.

“We could surprise everyone,” he said. “There’s a lot of talent on this team.”