Emilio Saavedra walks onto the mat this season with goggles, a little more weight and, he hopes, a tighter focus.
After all, he's the most decorated wrestler in the Stanislaus District and he carries the usual through-the-roof expectations. But the Modesto High junior thinks he's better prepared for all the anxiety swirling around him.
"I'm more confident in myself. As I mature, I feel I'm getting better," Saavedra said Saturday night, moments after he won the 132-pound title at the Modesto Junior College Invitational.
"I'm in the best possible place right now," he explained. "I'm older and wiser."
Saavedra's new-look goggles, the result of summer-time eye surgery, didn't bother him. Though he's up two weight classes over last year, he pinned four of his five opponents, including Hughson junior Chase Herrin in the second round of the title match.
Perhaps Saavedra is more at ease because of Modesto freshman Israel Saavedra, his brother. The younger Saavedra, whose youth accomplishments topped Emilio's, made a big first impression by rolling to the 126-pound title.
Then again, the brothers practiced together last season. Emilio went 40-4 as a sophomore and placed fourth at the State Meet at 120, one year after he was 50-2 for a third at State at 103.
His goal: The bigger he gets, the better he gets.
Saavedra spiced a field featuring 27 schools at the MJC Invitational, formerly called the Western. Reduced to a one-day event this year, it still brought together a cross-section of athletes for an early-season progress report.
And Ripon High senior Trevor Smith, one of the standouts of 2012, hasn't stopped progressing.
Smith, who reached the State semifinals at 182 before he eventually placed sixth last season, pulled away from Bret Harte's Luke Brewer in the third round for a victory and the 195-pound crown.
Brewer, who also earned a trip to Bakersfield last March, was tied with Smith until the Ripon star scored to lead 4-2 as time expired in the second round. From there, Smith countered Brewer's aggression.
"I don't want to be stopped this year," Smith said. "I'm pushing myself more with more endurance and more strength. I'm still sore from Thursday (his workout)."
In the 145-pound final, Andrew Patrick of Hughson darted for the left leg of Escalon's Jason Robbins and singled him for the winning points in overtime. This was a duel of solid seniors, and Patrick stayed unbeaten at 13-0.
The top lightweight award, as voted by the coaches, went to 113-pound winner Caleb Story of Bret Harte. The best upper-weight wrestler was Atwater's Kyle Thorp at 182.
CLAIM JUMPERS FALL Columbia (5-7) couldn't hold on to a 4-point halftime lead and was beaten at Marin 80-57 in non-league action. Danny Radford paced the Claim Jumpers with 17 points.
BOBCATS BEATEN UC Merced (0-11) trailed by 30 points late in the game and fell 82-63 to Hope International at Hostetler Court.
MJC FACES LANEY The Modesto Junior College women's basketball team (9-2), ranked fifth in Northern California and 11th in the state, meets Laney on Monday at 1 p.m. in the first round of the eight-team Jocelyn Mancebo Classic at San Joaquin Delta.
The Pirates will be at full-strength for only the second game this season. Jode Johnson made all-tournament during MJC's 2-1 showing last week, at Fresno City.
Point guard Camille Roberts, who missed the Fresno tournament (knee), is expected to play.
WARRIORS COMPETE Cal State Stanislaus (0-8, 0-4) led Chico State (8-0, 4-0) 34-33 at halftime before the Warriors were beaten on the road 68-58. Lauren Godde led Stanislaus with 16 points and 10 rebounds and Briana Cotton followed with 10 points. The Wildcats' lead reached 14 points.