STOCKTON – A.J. Camarena sweated from seemingly every pore as he walked off the Stockton Arena floor Friday.
Amid all that perspiration, however, was something more telling – a smile of sweet satisfaction.
Camarena, a senior wrestler from Escalon High School, is bound for Bakersfield – the site of the CIF state championships next week – for the first time. He did it by winning three times Friday, thus earning a semifinals berth today at the Sac-Joaquin Section championships.
Finishing strong is important, too. But regardless what happens today, Camarena is state-bound after missing the trip by exactly one win a year ago.
“All the work, the coaches pushing me ... I have a lot of passion in me,” Camarena said. “I feel truly blessed.”
Camarena dominated Josh Weiss of Rodriguez via an 11-3 major decision in the 195-pound quarterfinals, good for the Cougar’s third win this season over Weiss. This was the most lopsided of the three, however, and a signal that Camarena is peaking on the right weekend.
Camarena was one of more than 400 wrestlers, from schools big and small and public and private, at Masters. When today’s final matches are done, 84 – the top six from each of the 14 weight classes – will extend their seasons to the maximum.
The best from the Stanislaus District delivered as expected. Modesto High School junior Israel Saavedra, the two-time state champion, strung together a tech, a pin and an efficient 10-2 win over Oakdale junior Trevor Williams in the 126-pound quarterfinals.
Enochs senior McCoy Kent, third at state in 2014, pinned his first two opponents and advanced via a forfeit over Colin Hustrulid of Ponderosa at 138.
Friday at the Masters was a marathon, as always – nearly 10 hours of competition on eight mats. When it ended, 13 district athletes reached the semifinals and automatically earned their trips to Bakersfield.
Oakdale, which slotted 13 wrestlers into the Masters field, qualified five for the semifinals: senior Logan Eaton (113), senior Nico Colunga (120), senior Max Stevens (132), sophomore Abel Garcia (170) and senior Frankie Trent (182).
With that, the Mustangs totaled 98 points through the first day to trail only Del Oro with 1161/2. They lead third-place Folsom by 51/2 points. Tellingly, both Colunga and Eaton collide with Del Oro foes in the semis.
Oakdale, the 2011 Masters team champion, must enjoy a big day today to catch Del Oro. That said, the Mustangs will fight with their five semifinalists and five still alive in consolation.
“We lost a few key matches. Other than that, we had a pretty good day,” coach Steve Strange said. “There is a lot of wrestling left. It is a good day when you’re ahead of Folsom.”
Pitman also anticipates a busy second day with six still in the competition, two in the semifinals: seniors Angel Velasquez (132) and Gilbert Valadez (145). Valadez edged Jarrod Guinn of Rodriguez 8-7 in the quarterfinals. Pitman sits in eighth place in the team standings.
One of the day’s heartbreak stories belonged to Pitman sophomore Adam Velasquez, Angel’s younger brother. Adam took Dixon’s Devan Turner, ranked No. 2 in California at 120, to three overtimes before he was beaten 2-1 in the quarters.
Conversely, Ripon heavyweight Tristan Smith parlayed three consecutive wins by pin into a semifinals berth. The third, coming late in the second round over Darrion Taylor of Rosemont, drew a scream of joy from coach Glen White that could be heard across the floor.
Smith is the youngest of wrestling brothers: Trevor (sixth in the state in 2012 and third in 2013) and 2011 state qualifier Travis.
“That’s part of Tristan’s motivation,” White said, “to keep up with his brothers.”
Also in the semifinals are Merced senior Romeo Medina (152), the defending Masters champion, and Buhach Colony senior Jay Johnson (195).
Action resumes today with a consolation round at 9 a.m., followed by the semifinals at 10:15. The first-, third- and fifth-place matches are scheduled at 3 p.m.
And there will be drama.