The Lloyd C. Engel Wrestling Tournament at Escalon High has served as a season staple for many years, only now it grows larger.
More than 400 athletes from 40 schools up and down the Valley will gather for the two-day competition begining today on eight mats. Run by Escalon coach Derek Scott, the event has expanded in recent years after the demise of the Big Valley Classic in Stockton in 2012.
The format is unique – a pool competition where wrestlers seed themselves into brackets of similar caliber. The semifinals will be held Saturday at 10 a.m., leading to the finals at about 2.
Teams from Folsom, Elk Grove, Bella Vista and Ponderosa will spice the field. So will local teams, including Modesto High with 2013 state champion Israel Saavedra and older brother Emilio Saavedra.
Escalon, the host school, features seniors Tyler Lawrence (145) and Dominic Freesha (220), who both advanced to the State Championships in 2013. Both took home medals from the huge Sierra Nevada Classic last month in Reno – Freesha with a fourth and Lawrence with a fifth.
The tournament is named for the longtime Escalon football coach and athletic director who died in 2005 at 93.
• WRESTLER OF THE WEEK – Turlock senior Raphael Herrera (19-5) was named the Champion of Champions of the annual Bulldog Classic last Saturday after he dominated the 134-pound class. His grandparents from Mexico watched while he cruised through the bracket 4-0 with a pair of falls and tech-falls and finished with a cradle-pin of Christian Portilla of Oak Ridge. Herrera, a Sac-Joaquin Section runner-up who went 2-2 at State in 2012, hopes to again peak at the right time.
• NOTES – The Pitman Pride has enjoyed a successful week. It started last weekend with a tournament title over a 12-team field at Sacramento High’s Dragon Duals, featuring wins over Sir Francis Drake, Marysville, El Camino, Lindhurst and McClatchy. Then, on Wednesday night, Pitman (7-0) edged Golden Valley 29-28 in the Central California Conference opener. Lorenzo Lewis’ 5-2 win over Jacob Perry at 133 was the difference. ...
The 37th Doc Buchanan at Clovis High, one of the season’s most high-powered tournaments, produced its usual thrills last weekend. The headline from the Stanislaus District was the Saavedra brothers reaching the finals of their respective weight classes, only to lose their title matches. There were other local standouts. Modesto junior Angel Velasquez took home a fourth-place medal at 126, though he dropped a 3-2 decision to reigning state champion Mason Pengilly of Porterville. JoJo Ochoa of Atwater placed eighth at 220, and Kimball’s Trent Nicholson was seventh at 160. Oakdale’s Nico Colunga placed eighth at 120. ...
Enochs’ McKoy Kent (24-1), top-ranked in the section at 145, was idle last weekend as he and others around the district keep an eye on the 40-match limit which ends before the league meets. ...Watch Central Catholic senior Reggie Bland during the season’s second half. He fell one win shy of a medal at State last year, and he will get a late start to wrestling after his football-sore shoulder heals.