Showdowns loom at the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 1-AA Wrestling Championships today and Saturday at Johansen High.
The biggest potential head-to-head matchup, you ask? Start at the 120-pound class with Modesto High sophomore Israel Saavedra, a reigning state champion, vs. Vacaville senior Gionn Peralta, a 2013 state runner-up.
And this is only the divisional weekend.
Goal No. 1 for most wrestlers in the field is a finish in the top eight in each of the 14 weight classes, the key that unlocks a trip to Stockton for the Section Masters next weekend. But for the elite at the top of each bracket, positioning already has begun for the road to the CIF Championships on March 7-8 at Bakersfield.
To make that positioning more equitable, the section for the first time has adopted a system to separate at least the top two wrestlers in the bracket at all four Divisionals. Coaches representing all 22 leagues – including Gregori’s Mike Cantwell from the Modesto Metro Conference – met last week in Lodi and hashed out the process.
In the past, the brackets were broken down almost at random. This weekend, a better formula will be in place.
“I was a little skeptical at first. I’m a purist and I wasn’t sure how we could do it fairly,” said Cantwell, who coached at Grace Davis before he switched to Gregori. “It all went smoothly and was pretty painless. It made sense.”
Consider the heralded 120s coming up at Johansen. Peralta was the state runner-up at 113s last year, placed third in 2012 and was eighth as a freshman. He’s ranked first in the state at 113s while Israel Saavedra – last year’s state champ at 113 – is top-ranked at 120s.
Things got complicated last week, however, when Peralta bumped up to 120s for the Monticello Empire League Championships. All wrestlers are committed to their league-meet weights for the rest of the season.
Which could set up a No. 1 vs. No. 1, Israel Saavedra vs. Peralta, Saturday at Johansen. Thankfully, this year’s “seeding” by the coaches guarantees that both will be slotted at opposite ends of the bracket.
“All we wanted was the coaches to separate the top two guys in each weight. If they wanted to identify the No. 3 or No. 4, that was up to them. They had some options,” section spokesman Will DeBoard said. “This allows the divisionals to have more cache, and it also leads to a better Masters bracket.”
Coaches have wanted to seed the divisionals for many years but the section feared the probable knock-down-drag-out meetings. Factors changed, however, as strength grew among the top wrestlers, especially at D-1.
Cantwell remembered the 2004 divisional when Davis’ Mike Hurst, the eventual state 189-pound champion, met Tokay’s Scott Gaines in the division semifinal. Clearly, those two should have been paired in the finals.
Today, they would have seen each other in the right round.
PREP WRESTLER OF THE WEEK – Enochs junior McCoy Kent (38-4), ranked fourth in the section at 147s, won the 140s at the MMC Championships last week with an epic 3-2 win in triple overtime over Modesto’s two-time state medalist Emilio Saavedra, who’s top-ranked in the section at 140. Kent, who avenged a 1-point loss to Saavedra earlier in the season, easily transitioned down a weight. “I heard that some good wrestlers around the state were dropping from 152s to 145s, and even some guys at 160s were dropping to 145s. That weight class was stacked,” said Kent, who also was named the Wrestler of the Week by The California Wrestler.
NOTES – Merced senior Mark Taijeron, a Masters champion at 132 last year, ended his season due to a reported rib injury. Also out after he underwent knee surgery was Turlock junior Isaac Bertalotto, who placed eighth at State (132) in 2013. ... Two 2013 state champions won’t defend their titles next month – Derrick Jones III of Bloomington (220, injury) and Aaron Pico of St. John Bosco (132, training for the national team). Isaiah Locsin, a 2012 state champion and a runner-up at 120 last year for Live Oak, was ruled ineligible by the CIF earlier this month after his transfer to Gilroy was deemed “athletically motivated.” ...
Oakdale (Valley Oak League) and Escalon (Trans-Valley) both claimed their eighth straight league titles last week, but their streaks pale next to Vacaville’s 20-year domination of the MEL. Vacaville, perhaps bothered by its four-year reign at Section Team Duals stopped the week before by Folsom, rolled through its league meet. ... Davis senior Natalie Brown, one of 18 Stanislaus District qualifiers for the CIF Girls Championships on Feb. 28-March 1 at Visalia, placed third at 115s against the junior varsity boys at the MMCs. Enochs sophomore Sariyah Jones won the JV 108s. Jones will miss the Girls State Meet due to an international competition at Sweden on the same weekend. ... Pitman, unbeaten in Central California Conference dual meets, shared the league title with Golden Valley after the Cougars edged the Pride at the league meet. Merced heavyweight Tony Lopez pinned Pitman’s Eric Bajeran to lift Golden Valley over Pitman in the team standings 210-207 1/2. It was GV’s third wrestling championship.