To a man, the Drillers agreed: Bakersfield High's wrestling team is no less hungry, no less motivated and no less focused that it was a year ago, when it was chasing a state title instead of defending one.
It showed Saturday, when Drillers won 10 of the 14 finals matches in the Southwest Yosemite League Championships at Frontier.
"It hasn't changed," senior Ian Nickell said. "Even though we won last year, people might say that wasn't legit. We're not cocky; we're just here to wrestle. And we're going to do whatever we can to win."
Nickell, ranked No. 6 in the state at 112 pounds, had perhaps the night's biggest win when he downed Frontier's Vincent Gomez, who's No. 5, 11-4. It was Nickell's first victory over the Titans sophomore.
"He did a great job," BHS coach Andy Varner said. "I don't know how many times Gomez has beat him in the past two years, but he went hard. Hopefully he can ride that momentum into the next round."
This time, Nickell said he was more relentless on his feet, and that continued movement led to three takedowns against Gomez, who's best on his feet.
"It's the whole mindset I've had for the past couple of weeks after I underperformed at the at the Doc Buchanan and Temecula Valley (Invitationals)," Nickell said. "I just kind took this mindset that I can't give anyone else an inch on me. I've got to keep wrestling and not stop going hard the whole match."
Bakersfield scored 276 points to easily out-distance Frontier (193) and Centennial (158) and win the re-configured SWYL.
In all, Bakersfield will send 13 of a possible 14 wrestlers to next week's Central Section Yosemite Divisional at East High; the top four in each SWYL weight class advanced.
Ten of those Drillers won championships, with all but Nickell winning by pin or technical fall. That included top-ranked sophomore Coleman Hammond, who sported a new buzzcut and ended the night with a 145-pound pin over No. 8 Brandon Sotomayor of Centennial.
"I definitely have my eye on being a state champ," said Hammond, who won despite battling a cold and a still-painful broken right hand. "But I guess whatever happens happens. Right now it's just staying healthy and getting ready for next week."
Defending 160-pound state champ Bryce Hammond, Silas Nacita (171), Bryce Martin (119), Natrelle Demison (130) and Timmy Box (135) also all pinned their opponents in the finals; Adam Fierro (152), Arik Onsurez (103) and Maxx Ramirez (140) worked for tech falls.
The match of the night, however, was the one final that BHS didn't win; at 125 pounds, Frontier's Josh Lopez reversed a 5-1 loss from the regular season and beat Micah Cruz 2-1 with two points in the match's final 12 seconds.
"That was intense," Lopez said. "I just wanted to keep on my feet, not give up those easy takedowns I did last time. I just kept telling myself, 'Never give up.'"
Cruz led 1-0 into the third period and returned Lopez to the mat as he tried to escape a dozen or more times. With about 45 seconds left, the ref signaled for a stalling warning on Cruz but verbally contradicted himself, calling out that the stalling was on the red wrestler, Lopez. The hand signal was correct.
Then, with 12 seconds left, Cruz was hit for stalling again, costing him a point and tying the match. BHS assistant coach Steve Varner vehemently argued with the referee that the first warning wasn't clear, but the call held. Then Lopez finally escaped and held on to win.
"My mindset is to score," Lopez said. "I try not to leave it up to the refs, and I felt if I kept working, I'd get the points."
Frontier had seven finalists but settled for championships from Lopez and 189-pounder Jack Murphy.
Independence's Sean Hendrix came from a No. 4 seed to beat Liberty's Nathan Swainston 7-0 in the 215-pound final; Hendrix was named the meet's outstanding upperweight. Liberty senior Frankie Hurtado broke a 4-4 match with Frontier's John Popek in the heavyweight final with a pin that gave the Patriots their only championship.
The rest of the day was dominated by Bakersfield; but, as Andy Varner cautioned, the Drillers know there's a long way to go towards another state title.
"It's hard to get too excited," Varner said. "They all still have individual goals. This is the first small step. Reality check is next week."