ESCALON -- Expect a bigger and better Lloyd C. Engel Wrestling Tournament at Escalon High.
The event jumps from 32 teams last year to 40 teams Friday and Saturday. Coach Derek Scott will add an eighth mat to expedite the competition.
The format is unique. Friday's matches will qualify wrestlers into brackets for Saturday in an attempt to seed athletes of similar caliber.
Scott expects wrestlers from Newark Memorial, Elk Grove and Bella Vista to join teams from the Stanislaus District.
Action begins both days at 9 a.m., with the finals Saturday to start between 4 and 5 p.m.
The Engel honors the memory of the longtime Escalon football coach and athletic director who died in 2005 at 93.
FRESHMAN PHENOM Two years ago, then-Pitman High freshman Emilio Saavedra earned the title of "freshman phenom." He placed third at the State Meet in the 103-pound class and, last year after a transfer to Modesto High, took fourth in the state at 120.
This year, younger brother Israel Saavedra has inherited Emilio's phenom title.
Israel, a freshman at Modesto, has affirmed all expectations. As a youth wrestler, he won titles at an even greater clip than Emilio.
His potential was transformed into reality last weekend at Clovis' Doc Buchanan Invitational, one of the nation's top high school events, where Israel finished runner-up at 113.
He opened with three straight pins, then earned a 1-0 win over No. 2 seed Isaiah Hokit of Wasco, who placed fourth at State last March at 106. He finally submitted 9-2 in the title match to sophomore Zahid Valencia of St. John Bosco, the state champion at 106 last season and currently the nation's top-ranked wrestler.
"Israel held his own. He got a couple of escapes but he couldn't hold him down or turn him," Modesto coach Jose Castillo said. "Israel is mentally tough. He's to the point where he's wrestling more like a senior."
Such summit meetings of the elite are not uncommon at the Doc B. Oakdale's Ronnie Stevens (120) took fourth despite a semifinal loss to Live Oak's Isaiah Locsin, another state champion in 2012.
Central Catholic's Ray Lomas (170) also brought home a fourth-place medal. Nico Colunga of Oakdale (106), teammate Tyler Noon (152) was eighth, and Ripon senior Trevor Smith (182) finished seventh.
NOTES Waterford High graduate Erick Gomez, a Modesto Junior College sophomore, placed second at 184 at the California Community College Championships last month in Lemoore. Gomez, sixth at 174 in 2011, marched into the finals but fell there in a tough 4-3 loss to Kenny Breaux of Mt. San Antonio. Ripon graduate Travis Smith of MJC was fifth at 285. ...
Calaveras senior Justin Brown, a two-time state qualifier, dominated the 160-pound division at the Redskins' annual Gordon Hay Invitational in San Andreas. Brown won his division at the Hay four straight years. Calaveras topped runner-up Ponderosa in the 14-team field. ...
The girls season picks up momentum Friday and Saturday with the Napa Valley Classic, followed on Jan. 19 by the Enochs Lady Eagles Invitational.