Golden Valley High's wrestling team has won the Morning Star Invitational in Los Banos in the tournament's first two years of existence. But GV coach Chopper Mello doesn't feel like the favorite heading into Saturday's tournament.
"Oakdale is the team to beat. They just finished their state football game, so they might have some guys still out," Mello said. "They haven't been at this tournament. But they won the James Riddle Tournament two weeks ago without their football players. If we can compete with them, I'll be happy."
Golden Valley might not put a lot of guys at the top of the podium, but the Cougars don't need to in order to win tournaments. A year ago they won the Morning Star (194 points to second-place Dos Palos's 147) with one individual champion. Last week, the Cougars had one individual champ at the Modesto JC Invitational in 120-pounder Christian Vazquez, but had 14 medalists.
"That's kind of our M.O. It's how we work," Mello said. "We don't really have the superstars, the elite, state placer-quality kids. But we're close. Our kids compete."
That may be why Los Banos coach Josh Adams still sees Golden Valley as the favorite as the entries and lineups come rolling in for the 27-team event.
"Oakdale's kind of limping a little. They have guys still a little hungover from football and may not be ready for wrestling competition," Adams said. "Their lower weights are still solid, but I think Golden Valley is still the favorite. They bring a solid lineup from top to bottom."
But at least until Saturday, Golden Valley is the returning champ, and while it's just a preseason tournament, it still means something to the Cougars.
"The Morning Star's been in existence for two years, and it's had one champion. That's us," Mello said. "Those things go a long way with the kids. They like to keep streaks going. They like to call this tournament their tournament."
While it's a 27-team tournament, only about 18 of them will roll into town with a full complement of grapplers.
The rest bring a handful of guys, which allows Adams to condense the brackets into a single day of wrestling. Los Banos' gyms will be full on Sunday as well, for the 40-team (15 to 20 full teams) junior Morning Star tournament.
The tournament may be worth the price of admission for one match alone -- at 113 pounds, Oakdale's Nico Colunga (ranked No. 1 in the Sac-Joaquin Section by The California Wrestler) and Bret Harte's Caleb Storey (fourth-ranked in the section) are on a collision course.
Los Banos' Riko Quintana, a Sac-Joaquin Section honorable mention who came one match away from the state meet a year ago before losing to Storey, may match up against Golden Valley's Vazquez, also an honorable mention at 120 pounds.
A few other wrestlers to watch are:
Kimball's Trent Nicholson (ranked No. 4 in the section at 132),
Patterson's Daniel Cota (section honorable mention at 126),
Dos Palos' Izzac Suarez (ranked No. 7 in the Central Section at 152) and Nathan Pimentel (Central No. 6 at 145), and
Firebaugh's Aaron Mora (Central No. 4 at 132), Armand Molina (Central No. 8 at 126) and Isaac Rangel (Central No. 6 at 170).
Enterprise reporter David Witte can be reached by phone at 388-6565 or by e-mail at email@example.com>