But he'd told us so.
His Lions, led by a surplus of top-notch lower-weight wrestlers, was a special group and they needed just a little time to fill in the gaps and find their way and weight. Chappel and the Lions, who finished a distant third in the Bay Valley Athletic League, were all smiles and full of pride following a 34-24 win over Granada to secure the North Coast Section 3A East Bay Dual Championship on Saturday.
Making the title all the sweeter was the fact that the Lions hosted the two-division event that featured 18 teams and more than 200 wrestlers.
"This is very gratifying," Chappel said. "All year I told our guys to be patient, that we'd be much better and show better at the end of the season. They proved me right."
This was the fifth NCS team championship for a team coached by Chappel, now in his 29th season. It was the first dual meet championship, a format the NCS started in 2005. Other NCS crowns in the traditional format came in 1990, 1991, 1997 and 2003.
Also gratifying was the fact that Liberty was one of three at-large teams selected to the tournament. In other words, the Lions almost missed getting invited to the dance in the first place - and came home with the king's crown.
They fought back from a 24-10 deficit with five matches to go, starting with a pin from defending NCS 103-pound champion Paul Gomez. Granada forfeited to another defending NCS champion, David Klingsheim at 112, hoping its standout Zach Waldren would prevail at 119. Instead, Liberty's Anthony Thurgood prevailed 13-5 to give the Lions their first lead 26-24. Freshman Nico Serrano won by decision at 125 and Roger Hutchinson (130) prevailed in a technical fall to cap a remarkable day for the Lions.
Earlier in the match, when Granada looked like it might run away with the title, Liberty got big wins from Jesse Baldazo (140), David Rios (145) and Dalin Moravec (189), who fought back from a 5-1 deficit to post a 10-8 victory. Two more key performances came in defeat by Troy Johnson (215) and heavyweight Russell Johnson.
"They didn't get pinned and that was key," Chappel said. "They kept working and fighting for the team and that helped save us six points."
The Lions opened the day with a 57-19 win over California before edging James Logan 41-35.
"It is definitely kind of neat for the kids," Chappel said. "It's exciting because they are excited. They're finally starting to believe in themselves and what we've been telling them all along. They realized we weren't blowing smoke at them but being straight up."
There was a lot of skepticism following Liberty's second BVAL loss of the season, a decisive defeat at the hands of De La Salle, which on Saturday won the NCS 2A East Bay title.
"I think some kids wanted to desert us," Chappel said. "But they hung in, kept working hard and today it paid off. We're not going to stop here. We're not going to rest on our laurels. We still have a lot more work to do."
Chappel, whose Lions at one time won 14 straight league titles, believes a fifth NCS crown (in the traditional tournament) is within grasp and that his first six weight classes could all challenge for the top four medals. Gomez (105) and Klingsheim (114) could easily defend their titles, while Thurgood, Ryan Smith, Hutchinson and Rios are all more than capable.
Also watch out for Moravec, a three-sport standout, who always improves toward the end of the season. "We're right where we need to be," Chappel said.
It wasn't a stellar Saturday for either Freedom or Heritage. The Falcons, the top 3A seed and BVAL champion, was shocked in the quarterfinals by James Logan, 38-28. They came back to beat California in the consolations, but then lost to College Park.
In the 2A tournament, Heritage, an at-large selection coached by former Liberty wrestler Tony Uchytil, lost to eventual finalist Livermore 70-12 before losing 37-33 to Northgate in the consolation bracket.
Chappel said the presence in the tournament of three teams from one school district was a fabulous feat in itself. "There's no other school district here with three teams," he said. "I think it's a testament to how strong our programs are out here and how much dedication the kids and coaches have devoted."
Also satisfying is the fact that the Lions, their parents and Brentwood community put on such a successful event. All were up past 11 p.m. last Friday getting mats and booths built and organized.
It helped that Liberty has put on the Lou Bronzan Invitational for more than two decades. December's Bronzan event featured 66 teams, so this NCS gathering was small in comparison. "I think there's only three or four facilities in the East Bay that could put on this kind of event so quickly," Chappel said. "It's not by coincidence we pulled it off. Many, many people put in some long days to make it happen."
Liberty, Freedom, Heritage, Pittsburg and Deer Valley will be part of the BVAL Tournament at Ygnacio Valley on Saturday starting at 10 a.m.
"We want to keep the momentum going," Chappel said. "Our league has the two NCS champions, so you know the tournament will be quality."