It is believed that about 25,500 California high school wrestlers donned singlets and took part in the 2012-2013 season.
An estimated 11,900 participated at the varsity level.
From those, only 588 42 from each of the 14 weight classes are left.
They are the cream, and they'll compete in the CIF State Wrestling Championships on Friday and Saturday at Bakersfield's Rabobank Arena. The event, one of the jewels on the CIF athletic calendar, will crown 14 champions Saturday night.
Joining the elite field are 37 qualifiers from the Stanislaus District, including two medalists (top eight) from 2012 seniors Ray Lomas of Central Catholic and Trevor Smith of Ripon.
Lomas, a 160-pounder this year, placed fifth at 145 last year. Smith, now at 195, finished sixth at 182. Another medal candidate is Modesto freshman Israel Saavedra (113), who won the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters title last week and is ranked No. 2 in the state. Also winning a Masters title last week was Merced junior Mark Taijeron (132).
They'll take part in one of the most rigorous sports events in the nation. California is one of only three states along with Indiana and New Jersey who funnel their competition levels down to a single state tournament.
As for the best of the lot, "Pennsylvania is probably No. 1, Ohio is No. 2, and then it's a tossup between California and New Jersey for No. 3," said Al Fontes, a former wrestling coach and now an editor for thecaliforniawrestler.com
"To get in the medal round in California, you'll have to beat someone who is very good. There is no fluff. It is a grind," Fontes continued. "To place in the top eight is elite. The guys who miss the top eight by one match also are elite. They are that good."
For sheer drama, the State is hard to beat. Last year, Selma's Alex Cisneros appeared to be a lock to become only the second wrestler in history to win four straight CIF titles.
Cisneros led 3-0 with 10 seconds to go but, in a stunning turnaround, Gilroy's Nikko Villareal scored a takedown and near-pin to steal a 5-3 victory and the title. The crowd of about 6,000 gasped and roared.
In 2010, Central Catholic junior David Ferry surprised observers by defeating Joey Davis of Santa Fe in overtime in the 135-pound final. Undaunted, Davis responded by winning back-to-back state titles in 2011 and '12.
Competition will begin with 10 mats rolled across the Rabobank floor Friday morning. But by Saturday night, the spotlight will shine on a single raised stage, the scene for the championship bouts.
NOTES Local wrestling fans are hoping that the late Dan Gonsalves, the city high school wrestling pioneer, will be recognized at the state tournament.
Gonsalves, the local coach, official and athletic director for 53 years, died Monday at 81. Between 1956 and '73, his teams at Modesto and Grace Davis went 197-77-4 in dual meets and combined for seven Central California Conference titles, two section championships and one NorCal Crown (Davis, 1966).
Gonsalves, along with Elmer Pfaffenberger of Woodland, introduced and implemented the original seeding plan at the 1965 NorCals. This was the forerunner for the "draw" as it's done today. ...
A "never-say-die" award, if it existed last week at the Section Masters, would have gone to Turlock senior Ricky Flores (285). Start with the fact he weighs only 220 and spots his opponents many pounds. Flores dropped his first-round match, which made him a longshot to finish in the top seven (the state qualifiers). Then he won six of his last seven to earn fifth place.
Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2302.
WHERE: At Bakersfield's Rabobank Arena
WHO: The Stanislaus District sends 37 high school wrestlers.
UPDATES: For updates throughout the tournament, visit www.modbee.com/sports