Turlock High junior Fabian Garcia understands the expectations game because he plays it harder than anyone.
He placed seventh in the state as a freshman and improved his showing to fourth last year. To keep his career arrow pointing upward, he must keep improving. Only now, he's armed with back-to-back Sac-Joaquin Section Masters titles in the 119-pound class as he prepares for trip No. 3 to state.
"In our wrestling room, we have a banner on the wall with all the names of the section champions," said Garcia (44-4), whose name will be tacked onto that banner for the second time. "I want it on there one more time."
But first things first. The section's top-ranked wrestler will lead a contingent of 35 from the Stanislaus District into the 37th CIF State Wrestling Championships to be held Friday and Saturday at Bakersfield's Rabobank Arena.
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Four district products won Section Masters titles last weekend at Stockton — Turlock sophomore Garrett Fortado (103), Garcia, Oakdale's Shane Tate (130) and Central Catholic's David Ferry (135) — but no one brings a wealth of experience at the highest level like Garcia.
Last year in the state semifinals, he trailed Esteban Cabanas of Canyon Springs 10-2 in the third period before he launched a frenzied comeback. Remarkably, Garcia sent the match into overtime before he lost on a takedown.
He's been ranked No. 1 in the section virtually the entire season, and — combined with his two previous trips to state — he's not exactly an unknown. Then again, he's not ranked among the top three in the state in his weight class.
The bottom line remains unchanged — nothing matters until the best 560 wrestlers representing 10 CIF sections convene this weekend.
Last year, 30 from the district advanced and 11 reached the second day. The now graduated Chris Urquizo of Merced, one of three district semifinalists, won the 152-pound title.
Thursday's Bee will feature a breakdown, weight by weight, of the state tournament. Action begins both days at 9 a.m., with semifinals scheduled for Saturday at 9:30 a.m. and the championship matches that night at 7:15. For more bracket and ticket information, visit statecif.org or thecaliforniawrestler.com, or contact Ticketmasters or the Rabobank Arena box office.
LOOKING BACK — Here are several moments from the Section Masters: Waterford's Eric Gomez (160), losing to Grace Davis' Gabe Gonzalez Friday night, only to beat him via fall Saturday night for third place. ... Gonzalez remaining the only Modesto Metro Conference qualifier to state. ... Vacaville's Adam Delagarza (189), previously unbeaten, dashing off the mat at Stockton Arena after his stunning loss in only 46 seconds to Lyndell Scarr of Ponderosa, racing through the tunnel and punching the wall in disgust. ... Seventh-place matches, often the most intriguing because the winner goes to state and the loser goes home, won by Turlock's Jose Zuniga (112), Christian Franks of Escalon (119), Mike Guzman of Buhach Colony (125) and Garrett Burns of Summerville (189). Franks' takedown as time expired carried him to a 5-3 win over Justin Brown of Calaveras though officials conferred for about a minute before they confirmed the call. ... The singular brilliance of champions Jake Briggs of Bella Vista (140) and Tyler Johnson of Vacaville (145), the only two section wrestlers who are ranked No. 1 in the state this week. Briggs yielded only three points last week in Stockton.
THE LODE — Almost lost amid all the action last weekend was a record showing by the Mother Lode League. The mountain schools qualified nine wrestlers to the state, led by Calaveras senior Tyler Brown, the runner-up at 145.
Calaveras, the MLL's resident heavyweight, is being challenged these days by Summerville, Bret Harte and Argonaut, all which will be represented in Bakersfield. Summerville's Matt Duckworth (130), Carson Gracia (145) and Garrett Burns (189) will mark the Bears' first-ever entries at state.
"Most teams in our league have stepped up their numbers," said Calaveras coach Mark Bowe, a former Summerville football coach who's logged nearly 30 years on the mat. "It's a bumper crop."
Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2302.