KINGSBURG — Even before becoming the head coach of the Kingsburg wrestling team, Bryce Hammond said the sport has always been integral to his family. His dad, Ray Hammond, taught him the sport at an early age.
“He was always in the [wrestling] room,” Bryce said. “Even now, he’s 56 and he wrestles every single day at Cal State Bakersfield with the college guys.”
Ray wrestled at Cal State Bakersfield and Bryce followed in his father’s footsteps at the same college.
At Cal State Bakersfield Bryce was a three-time Pac-12 champion in the 174-pound weight-class in 2013-14 and 2016. In 2014, he was also the first Cal State Bakersfield wrestler to earn All-American honors since 2010 as a redshirt sophomore.
His redshirt junior season ended with a shoulder injury. He bounced back his senior year with 21-5 record. As a senior, Hammond went 2-2 in the NCAA national championship tournament.
Bryce’s brother, Coleman Hammond, was also on the team during his sophomore to senior seasons. Currently, Coleman is in his final season at Cal State Bakersfield.
At Bakersfield High School, Bryce was the top-ranked wrestler in the state at 160 pounds and was a two-time California state champion.
He said he was fortunate to work with world-class coaches in his career including Andy Varner, his head coach in high school.
Bakersfield High School has an excellent wrestling tradition, and Bryce wants to bring that same type of atmosphere to Kingsburg.
In his second season as coach, he has already seen improvement in his team.
“We’ve been better than what I anticipated,” Bryce said. “Where we are at right now is where I expected us to be at this point next year.”
With an improving team and an impressive freshman class, Bryce expects the program to become one of the top teams in California.
“I think we’re going to continue to improve,” Bryce said. “I think this group has a good chance in two to three years to be a top five, top-10 team in the state.”
Currently, thecaliforniawrestler.com has two Kingsburg wrestlers ranked. Jonathan Viveros is ranked No. 37 at 113 pounds and Bo Jackson is No. 21 at 170 pounds.
Bo qualified for the California Interscholastic Federation state wrestling meet last year and went 0-2.
The junior expects to return and medal this year.
“The expectations are definitely higher,” Bo said. “I realized how hard it is to win state and even place in state for that matter, but the goal is always not to worry about winning or losing but work as hard in practice every day.”
Kingsburg wrestler Ty Lewis is also someone the coach expects to qualify for the state meet this year.
“[When] you place in state, your name gets pretty scary,” Ty said.
Bryce's NCAA Div. I experience is something the wrestlers appreciate.
“He has lots of experience and lots of things to say,” Ty said. “He can move still... still being close to his college form is perfect for teaching.”
Bo sees the change the coach is making at Kingsburg High.
“Having Coach Hammond is definitely a real privilege,” Bo said. “It’s really amazing when you think of all of his accomplishments of being an NCAA All-American and ending up in Kingsburg of all places.”
“It’s real pleasure to have him as a coach. We’re excited for future with him as a leader.”
The coach expects Jonathan Viveros, Jet Jackson, Brandon Rocha, Alfred Carpenter and Noah and Xavier Jimenez to qualify for the CIF State tournament.
“Right now we’re in a place where we have anywhere from five to seven guys that could get to the state tournament,” he said. “I think we've got two, maybe three that have a good shot at getting on the podium at the state tournament."
He hopes the Vikings finish the season among the top 25 teams in the state.
“That’s where I'd like us to be. I think we could do it,” he said.
This weekend, Kingsburg wrestlers will compete at the Doc Buchanan Invitational at Clovis High School on Jan. 5-6.