Modesto's Saavedra Bee's Wrestler of the Year

ragostini@modbee.comMarch 14, 2013 

EC Masters06

ED CRISOSTOMO/ Modesto High's Israel Saavedra, right, battles against Ceres High's Gabe Balderas during the 2013 SJS Masters Tourney 113 weight class championship match at the Stockton Arena on Saturday afternoon (02-23-13) in Stockton CA. Modesto High's Israel Saavedra won the match.


    alternate textRon Agostini
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: Sports
    Bio: Ron Agostini has served as a sports reporter and columnist for The Bee for more than 35 years. His stories and columns have won state-wide, regional and national awards and he's a board director and past president of the California Golf Writers and Broadcasters Association. He's a graduate of Fresno State.
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He was 3, two years younger than his brother cq Emilio, when they took part in the Modesto PAL youth wrestling program at Modesto High. From the start, Israel beat kids twice his age.

“He was one of those naturals,” his father Angel said.

And when one of those “naturals” tacks on a fearless work ethic, he invites greatness.

So it played out that Israel, as a Modesto High freshman, earlier this month campaigned to the 113-pound state title at the CIF State Wrestling Championship.

“Everyone is shaking my hand. The school knows what I accomplished,” Israel said. “It (the championship) is still living inside me.”

Saavedra, the easy choice as the Stanislaus District Wrestler of the Year, understands talent must be nurtured. He and Emilio, the latter a two-time State medalist, have double-teamed the process as willing partners.

Emilio burst onto the scene three years ago, yet he almost always accompanied his remarks with this rejoinder: “Yes, but you should see my brother. He’ll be better than me.”

Such praise is often heard among overachieving siblings, and it’s seldom correct. But in this case, Emilio wasn’t overselling his brother. He saw the talent, the national awards and, yes, the potential.

It all blossomed for Israel this season when he became one of only 11 freshmen ever to capture CIF state titles. He’s also Modesto High’s first state wrestling champion, an honor earned with his 48-1 record, Sac-Joaquin Section Masters title and 6-0 rally through the bracket in Bakersfield.

His only loss, a 9-2 decision to Zahid Valencia of St. John Bosco — who was top-ranked in the nation — happened at the finals of the Doc Buchanan in Clovis.

“I could have done a lot better in that match. I gave up some stupid takedowns,” Saavedra said. “The loss told me to work harder.”

Since then, the freshman merely won his final 30 matches. Not fancy but almost always busy, Saavedra confounded his opponents with nonstop probing, moving and, ultimately, attacking.

It also didn’t hurt his cause to get lucky at State. He convincingly won his semifinal match at State while, on the adjacent mat, Valencia was stunned by Sean Williams of Lemoore as the crowd erupted at Rabobank Arena.

Though Valencia exited, Saavedra was extended to the max against Williams in the final. In fact, he trailed 3-2 but drew even with three seconds left after Williams was called for stalling.

Saavedra, desperate but always active — he forced most of the match’s action — shot while Williams stepped off the mat. The referee, who had warned Williams earlier, awarded the point.

The Modestan then grasped the title 31 seconds into the overtime when he countered Williams and spun from behind for the winning takedown. He became the first district state champion since Central Catholic’s David Ferry in 2010.

“I think I had a little luck, but hard work paid off, too,” Saavedra said. “I didn’t think I would get the stalling point. I tried for it.”

Fighting to the end is a family trait, one that empowers both brothers. As for Israel, he’ll accept the enlarged target on his back.

“I’ll try to get bigger and go into the 120s hopefully,” he said. “There will be a lot of pressure. I’ll work harder.”

Which comes naturally when your name is Saavedra.

Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at or (209)578-2302. Follow him via Twitter on


Wrestler of the Year

Israel Saavedra, Modesto, Frosh (113): Went 48-1 and won Masters and State titles

• All-Stars

Nico Colunga, Oakdale, Soph (106): Eighth at State, third at Masters, Divisional champ

Israel Saavedra, Modesto, Frosh (113): Won eight tournaments and final 30 matches

Ronnie Stevens, Oakdale, Senior (120): Masters champion won first three at State.

Rafael Herrera, Turlock, Junior (126): Went 2-2 at State after reaching finals at Divisional and Masters

Isaac Bertalotto, Turlock, Soph (132): Eighth-place medal at State, went 2-2 vs. Taijeron

Mark Taijeron, Merced, Junior (132): Pushes with Bertalotto due to Masters and Divisional titles

Joey Abbate, Central Catholic, Senior (138): Went 1-2 at State after winning Divisional and third at Masters

Andrew Patrick, Hughson, Senior (145): Went 2-2 at State after reaching Masters final and winning Divisional

Zack Velasquez, Argonaut , Soph (152): Went 3-2 at State including tie-breaker OT win over Latrell Benjamin

Ray Lomas, Central Catholic, Senior (160):Three-time State qualifier places third after winnings Masters

Johnathon Costa, Escalon , Senior (170): Another three-time State qualifier goes 1-2 after Divisional title, third at Masters

Reggie Bland, Central Catholic, Junior (182): Went 1-2 at State after winning Divisional

Trevor Smith, Ripon, Senior (195): Improved from sixth to third at State, won Divisional and Masters

Ricardo Garcia, Turlock, Senior (220): Won first two at State after third at Masters and Divisional title

Ricky Flores, Turlock, Senior (286): State qualifier took fifth at Masters including tie-breaker win over Eric Barrigan

Coach of the Year

Mike Cantwell, Gregori: Former Davis coach led school's first seniors to back-to-back MMC titles

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