image-wrestling practice
The Cougar wrestling program benefits from a strong turnout among both boys and girls. August Howell / Review

Earlier this month, Half Moon Bay High School hosted one of the largest wrestling tournaments ever held on the Coastside.

There were hundreds of matches in the HMB Peninsula Wrestling Tournament over two days, and the last match of the day had fans screaming until the final whistle. Senior Cougar Caspian Grabowski won a thrilling sudden-death triple-overtime match. 

“That match was the best one of the night,” sophomore Taylor Micallef recalled. “The last one, and we were all screaming. It was insane.”

The duel earned him the tourney’s Most Outstanding Upper Weight Wrestler award. It was Grabowski’s first full tournament since wrestling international competition in Ukraine last summer. 

“I was happy I won, getting past that last wrestler was icing on the cake,” said Grabowski, who accepted an offer to wrestle at the University of Arkansas, Little Rock, upon graduation. “But it doesn’t matter how tasty the cake is, you still have to do it again.”

The girls, currently ranked No. 2 in the Central Coast Section, won the tourney on Nov. 30. They were first of 33 teams and had twice as many athletes as the other schools. The girls took first in the third annual Rose Garden Rumble in San Jose last Saturday. 

The win comes at a time when high school wrestling, especially for girls, is growing around the nation. Half Moon Bay High School is no exception. Inside the confines of a small gym, the Cougars are quietly fostering a Peninsula Athletic League powerhouse.

The boys have won the PAL Bay Division for the past five seasons. And with 63 total students on the roster, 27 girls and 36 boys, this is the largest team the Cougars have ever had. 

The day after the girls won the Peninsula Tournament, the boys went toe-to-toe on the mat as 52 schools came into the Half Moon Bay High School gym. It was the largest turnout in a dozen years.

Prior to Grabowski’s dramatic win, 160-pound Bryan Thorne upset the No. 3 and No. 2 seeds to get second overall. Head coach Ronnie Ekis has been with the team for nearly a decade, but this is his second season as head coach. He credits longtime coach Tom Baker for this team’s foundation.

“Just five years ago we started with four girls,” Ekis said. “Those girls found their friends, and now it’s multiplied, and here we are sitting at 27 girls.”

Both squads have depth, with the girls grappling as low as 100 pounds up to 235. In the Peninsula tourney, Micallef was a clear standout. Listed at 126 pounds, she won four matches to win her division and the MVP of the Lower Weight Division. Jacqueline Miguel-Dolores, wrestling up a weight class at 160 pounds, beat two top-ranked CCS girls to take first place. Nataly Gijon battled several tough opponents to win the 235-pound division. 

“The new girls that we picked up are pretty tough, and we’re still up there,” Micallef said. “And having a lot of people helps stay up there.” 

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