Wrestling fans understand exactly what’s coming today and Saturday at the 42nd CIF State Championships in Bakersfield.
The storylines already have been laid out: Modesto High sophomore Israel Saavedra and his quest for a second straight state title; his older brother Emilio and his final chance for state glory; Nikko Villarreal of Gilroy and Nick Nevills of Clovis who will pursue a third straight championship.
The drama will play out on the floor of Rabobank Arena. It always does.
Also true, however, are the hundreds of stories of young athletes who toiled countless hours in practice rooms just to get there. They won’t win championships or have their hand held high on the raised stage Saturday night. Their accomplishment was to qualify, to be among the field of 560.
And it was no small thing.
One of the best rounds of the Sac-Joaquin Masters Championships each year is the seventh-place matches. Because the section advances only seven in each weight class to State each year, this round is drenched in desperation. It’s all-or-nothing – win and you go to State, or lose and go home.
Eight Stanislaus District athletes won such pressurized bouts last Saturday: Logan Eaton of Oakdale (106), Steven Abbate of Central Catholic (113), Trevor Williams of Oakdale (120), Rafael Herrera of Turlock (126), Paul Fagbamila of Beyer (132), Reese Chew of Kimball (138), Ethan Morse of Golden Valley (145) and Tanner Reeves of Oakdale (160).
They’ll target more success today, though their unforgiving seeding is an obstacle. No matter. Somehow and someway, they reached the final destination.
So did others with similar journeys.
Consider Oakdale junior Frankie Trent, who lost his first-round match at 170. In a 32-man bracket, losing your opening match almost guarantees you will not earn a medal. The consolation bracket can be a long and energy-sapping slog.
Trent’s response? He won seven in a row, including the last six against wrestlers who easily could have beaten him, en route to a remarkable third-place finish.
“My stomach hurt for two rounds after he lost,” Oakdale coach Steve Strange said. “Frankie’s work ethic is second to not very many. They were lined up against them, some of the best kids in the section. It was pretty remarkable.”
Trent won 7-0, 3-0, 3-1, 3-2, 6-4 in overtime, 3-1 and, finally for third place, 3-1 over Del Oro’s Dylan Kainrath.
“A lot of what you go through is in the mind,” Strange said. “When you get into consolation, there are guys who get tough and a lot of guys who pack it in. It’s up to the wrestler.”
We know which course Trent took.
Another example was Argonaut senior Caleb Patrick, the third-place Masters medalist at 132. He covets that medal at least as much as Trent.
Patrick, a four-time section divisional champion, ran headlong each year into a roadblock at Masters. He won his first two matches three straight times at Masters only to lose in the quarterfinals. Then, on Saturday morning in a consolation-bracket match he needed to win to stay alive, he bowed out.
Sure enough, Patrick followed the same script at Masters last weekend – consecutive wins followed by a loss. For the fourth straight year, he faced that familiar must-win Saturday morning.
This time, he did it via an escape point in the final second to edge Daniel Cota of Patterson 7-6. Thus inspired, he tacked on three additional victories, the last one a 4-2 win over Bobby Ehman of Vacaville for third.
“It was kind of a curse the last three years,” a relieved Patrick said. “Now it feels awesome.”
Enochs senior Devon Sookhoo, fourth at 126 last weekend, can relate to such barriers finally cleared. His trip to Bakersfield also was hard-earned.
Sookhoo broke his collarbone during the Modesto Metro Conference finals as a freshman. A year later, he was bounced out of the postseason by an illness. As a junior, his season ended after going 1-2 at Masters.
He showed steady improvement each year, however, and it culminated with solid showings at tournaments throughout California. He gained confidence at Masters last weekend with a 16-10 first-round win over Josh Villaflor of Franklin of Elk Grove. Though he eventually lost to Villaflor for third place, Sookhoo deserves his berth at State.
“He’s had a great four years and really progressed,” Enochs coach Duane Brooks said.
There are 560 wonderful stories, no doubt, this weekend at Bakersfield.
High School Wrestler of the Week – Merced junior Romeo Ontiveros, ranked only sixth, rolled through five opponents to the 152-pound title at Masters. Ontiveros, third at the Division 1-A the week before, pinned highly regarded Trent Nicholson of Kimball to gain momentum in the second round. He eventually claimed the championship by bolting from a 3-3 deadlock to beat third-ranked Roman Romero of McNair 9-5.
Notes – The section will need an improved performance at State to keep its seven qualifiers. It’s earned 18 or 19 medals (top 8) each year since 2010, but that number probably must climb into the low 20s this weekend in Bakersfield. The CIF shuffles the qualifying berths every other year, and this is the change-year. The powerful Southern and Central lead the 10-section list with nine qualifiers apiece, followed by the Sac-Joaquin with seven. The remaining seven send three or fewer. Two years ago, the SJS barely averted a drop to six berths. ... Grace Davis senior Natalie Brown (106) ended her career with a fifth-place medal at the fourth CIF State Girls Championships at Visalia. She won her first two matches and eventually finished 5-2. Brown, the Section Invitational champion this season, placed sixth at State last year.