The Falcons have never won a North Coast Section boys championship in any sport, but after taking second at the loaded Clayton Valley Invitational on Saturday, they seem ready to challenge for at least one NCS crown.
The undefeated Bay Valley Athletic League leaders sent four seniors and a freshman to championship matches, and though none prevailed, the Falcons' 140 points earned them second place in the team competition behind champion and Northern Section power Red Bluff's 174.
Falcon freshman Zach Wiley (103 pounds) and seniors Mike Sherman (125), Cuyler Cooper (152), Ken Corbin (160) and Gonzalo Hernandez (285) all took second place. The Falcons competed without 135-pounder Paul Riley (fractured bone in foot) and junior 145-pounder Nick Waldrop (knee injury).
That makes Freedom's early success all the more impressive and its future even more promising. "Once we get healthy, our lineup is going to be even stronger," said third-year head coach John Parsons. "I think we're going to be trouble."
Although Freedom lost 125-pound state runner-up David Prado to graduation in June - he earned a scholarship to Arizona State - Parsons has been pointing to 2007-08 as a breakthrough season.
Most of the team's seniors have been wrestling for Parsons year-round since the sixth grade. The Falcons hope to improve on their best-ever third-place finish in 2005 at the NCS individual tournament, which takes place Feb. 22-23 at Newark Memorial. Last year Freedom came in sixth.
The Falcons also have a legitimate shot to win the NCS 3A Dual Championships, which take place Feb. 9 at Liberty. With such BVAL powers as Liberty and De La Salle dominating the competition, Freedom has never qualified for NCS in duals.
But with victories already over De La Salle (De La Salle won 38-34 last month but later forfeited for using an ineligible wrestler) and Liberty (36-24) and the toughest part of its schedule out of the way, Freedom should be a shoe-in to at least qualify and earn a high seed.
"Our goal is to win league and NCS championships," Parsons said. "Since the school has never won a boys title, that's going to help push us a little harder. We're going to do a little extra."
What makes the Falcons so dangerous is their ability to excel at both the dual and individual tournament format. They won dual tournaments at Hogan (Vallejo) and American (Fremont) and took second in regular tournaments at Turlock and Clayton Valley.
Among the Falcons ranked in the top six of NCS as of Jan. 14 are sophomore Dominic DiMercurio (112, second), Sherman (125, third), Waldrop (145, first), Corbin (160, sixth) and Hernandez (285, sixth).
"We have that rare mix where we are solid in both," Parsons said. "We've shown we have talented top-end guys who can get to the finals of regular tournaments. And our two dual tournament titles prove we can do well there.
"But we're not relaxing. Our guys don't get too high or too low. They take care of business six minutes at a time."
They showed that in a brilliant victory over Liberty two weeks ago. DiMercurio set the tone by upsetting Paul Gomez at 112, but Liberty rallied to take control heading into the final two matches. Jeremy Parsons (189) - the coach's son - and heavyweight Hernandez pulled off back-to-back pins to take the emotional dual home victory, the first ever against the Lions.
"Liberty is the measuring stick," Parsons said. "If you want to call yourself a champion or you want to start a dynasty, it starts with them. We have a long way to go to be the Liberty Lions, but that was a good start."
The Falcons participate in one of the state's most prestigious regular- season tournaments on Saturday, the Foothill Asics Invitational in Sacramento. On Wednesday, Freedom travels to Parsons' alma mater, Antioch.
The 1984 graduate was part of Antioch's golden age under coach Steve Sanchez. The Panthers won the NCS championship in 1984, and in 1989 captured a state crown.
"It was a great foundation to learn from," Parsons said. "A lot of us learned all our wrestling skills from (Sanchez) during that era. Now we're just trying to pass it on."