Bakersfield College unveils new women’s wrestling team at spring media day

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When Andrea Prise stopped by Marcos Austin’s Bakersfield College wrestling team, she was just hoping to recruit some men interested in expanding their horizons by wrestling steers for her fledgling rodeo club.

Instead, her visit led to a conversation with Athletic Director Reggie Bolton about BC’s upcoming addition of women’s wrestling as a varsity sport.

“He said, ‘Well, are you interested in coaching?'” Prise recalled. “I was like, ‘Well, heck yeah!'”

And so Prise, already an adjunct in agriculture and the founding coach of the rodeo club, now finds herself at the forefront of another new venture. She was joined by wrestlers Galilea Chavez (East) and Chloe Espericueta (Shafter) in the Gil Bishop Sports Center for BC’s media day Friday, the public debut for the new team, which will be on the mat this spring.

“I was just waiting for something to happen,” Chavez said, “for a women’s team, hoping (for it) to open up, and it happened, which I’m very excited about.”

Women have trained with the men’s team before — Espericueta, a sophomore, was listed on the wrestling roster each of the past two years, and Chavez, a freshman, won a round robin at the Meathead Movers Tournament in October — but this is the first time they’ll have the chance to compete on their own terms for any extended stretch.

“I think for any first program, we just want to build a strong foundation,” Prise said. “We want to have our fundamentals solid so that from here we can just keep building and building.”

She added that Austin’s team provides a good foundation in and of itself.

“I’m gonna keep saying it all semester: I don’t want to reinvent the wheel, I just want to keep going on his program because it’s been successful,” Prise said.

The team’s inaugural season will also be the first for the California Community College Athletic Association as a whole. For now, BC only has wrestlers for six of the 10 weight classes. But Prise, who has refereed wrestling locally and competed herself in high school, hopes that the program will encourage more women to stay local in the future. Her own sister, she said, had to travel to Oregon just to play the sport.

So far, the pressure of being the first hasn’t gotten to the newest Renegade competitors, or their coach.

“I probably should be a little more nervous about that,” Prise said, “but I’m more excited.”

BC’s schedule hasn’t been released yet, but the inaugural season should open later this month.

Baseball’s new leader

Change was also apparent elsewhere at BC media day, as Kurt Townson opened his appearance by joking about how frequently he’s been introduced as legendary coach Tim Painton’s replacement. (Friday was no exception.)

The Renegades have a new leader for the first time since 1996, and Townson, the longtime assistant, is charged with expunging the poor taste — he called it sour, sophomore pitcher Tim Ruiz called it bitter — of a sub-par 12-28 campaign in 2022.

“When you go through a season of that nature, there’s a lot to learn from it,” Townson said. He added that he was “empathetic and apologetic for Coach Painton to go out on a note like that.”

Early returns this year are positive for both Ruiz and Townson’s son Drew — “It’s a fine line: I respect him, he respects me,” the elder Townson said of their player-coach relationship — entering the spring, as both players praised the team’s new culture.

“Pushing each other on the field is definitely what’s been our biggest upside so far,” Drew Townson said.

The Renegades have a pair of scrimmages with Reedley ahead of their season-opening doubleheader against Moorpark Jan. 27.

Other tidbits

Marc Gomez, who heads up the Garces girls tennis program in the fall, is now entering his second season as the BC women’s tennis coach. He said he came aboard in January last year and didn’t get the chance to recruit anyone, meaning the team had only eight players; it now has 12 or 13.

“Now we have almost a full year to improve on their game,” he said.

Men’s golf coach Wes Coble shared some perspective on what sets his team apart from its conference competition, focusing on its rigorous conditioning program in particular.

“It helps when you don’t think it will,” golfer Caleb Jameson said. “All of us gained 10, 20 yards off the tee by just being in the weight room constantly.”

The golf team also discussed its fervent desire to beat powerhouse College of the Canyons, contrasting the Cougars’ international-heavy, nearly overflowing roster with BC’s small local base.

“They’re that 800-pound gorilla in the room,” Coble said.

BC softball, meanwhile, is aiming to build on a milestone 2022 season that brought the Renegades to the brink of the state playoffs, but will have to do it with just five returners. One of them, Kady Smith, will slide into more of a primary pitcher role after periodically spelling ace Talia Nielsen last year, a capacity in which Smith said she was “a little not myself.”

“I am excited to take on the role, and I’ve kind of been able to feel it out in the fall,” Smith said.

The Renegade beach volleyball team is set to play a doubleheader in Bakersfield on March 24, after holding its one “home” event in Ventura last season.

Reporter Henry Greenstein can be reached at 661-395-7374. Follow him on Twitter: @HenryGreenstein.

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