ANAHEIM — Chemistry doesn't explain it. Talent is only part of the equation. Leadership isn't the answer, and coaching was the same as it has been the last nine years.
Maybe the planets happened to be aligned perfectly?
No on all accounts.
To find out what went so right for El Modena's championship wrestling team, the search ends at possibly the simplest, but certainly not the easiest, of explanations.
"We pushed hard," senior Juan Alvarez said.
"We trained hard and we worked hard," senior Chris Jaime offered.
"The kids work hard," Coach Alan Clinton said. "It's the old, what have you done for me today, because yesterday doesn't count for much. You can't live off what you've done, because it's not going to get you far.
"Kids aren't dumb. They realize that if someone takes a vacation, it's going to cost the team down the road."
Time off won't come until next week, after the last mat has been rolled and stored from the State tournament. So today, final preparations begin for the two-day event that ends Saturday at Stockton, where the Vanguards will send four wrestlers, including one Southern Section individual and Masters champion, a section winner and a Masters runner-up.
On the way there, El Modena won its second league championship, its first section team title and dual-team championship, and qualified seven athletes--three were alternates--for the Masters meet this past weekend.
Although this was the first year for any section title, success under Clinton didn't come out of nowhere. The Cal State Fullerton graduate turned around Orange's program in 1982, then repeated the task at El Modena in 1985.
The Vanguards went from 0-7 to 4-8 in his first year. In the past six seasons, El Modena has been ranked among the top 10, and has been rated No. 1 or 2 in the county in three of those years. In 1992, the Vanguards were third in the section and last year they were second.
"We've done something in a short time span and we've been consistent with it," Clinton said. "In the past six years, a (winning) tradition has formed. (Winning) is part of the natural plan, it's expected."
And with 16 returners, including nine starters, everyone expected this would be a banner year for El Modena.
"Everyone started getting better and better," senior David Wells said. "(Success) was expected, because during the season, there were a lot of people who did things we didn't expect."
Wells pointed to the surprising performances of Zane Koss and Dan Kingman, the Vanguards' 189-pounder and heavyweight. Koss, a senior who wrestled junior varsity last year, won a league title, and Kingman, an inexperienced freshman, finished second in league to a wrestler who took third in the section.
"They were awesome," Wells said. "That's the kind of thing that happened this year for us."
But along with the highs, there were some unwelcome lows. After a heady start and victories in back-to-back established tournaments in San Diego and Hawaii, a less-than-stellar showing in the prestigious Five Counties Meet and a lackluster 45-12 loss to Calvary Chapel made El Modena pause and think.
"We kind of slacked off a little in the middle of the season, and we realized we had to work hard again," Jaime said. "Yeah, they're powerful, but we could have done better. We started working even harder."
Should El Modena have an unsatisfactory State tournament--it hopes to improve on last year's 12th-place finish--it would look back at the rest of the season with mixed feelings of accomplishment.
"It won't happen," Wells said in reference to a poor showing by the Vanguards. "We've been there before. We'll do well. If we don't, I'm not going to dwell on it the rest of my life. It won't be a crisis thing."
He even refers to his team's accomplishments from here on out as "bonus points," while Alvarez sees the Vanguards' State performance as a reflection of the entire season.
"We have to have a good State to have a good season," Alvarez said.
You get the feeling the Vanguards are going to do many things at State, but falling flat on their faces won't be one of them.
They've worked too hard to do that.