Israel Saavedra and McCoy Kent, the city’s wrestling kingpins, have called themselves both friends and opponents over the years.
Little did we know they eventually would become a joint entry.
They became just that, in an indirect way, during Saturday’s finish of the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Championships. Each won his weight class and dominated, which is exactly what they planned.
Because they’ve trained together the last few weeks.
Saavedra, the two-time defending state champion from Modesto High School, and Kent, the Enochs senior who’s built his own impressive résumé, agreed to practice in the same room after the Modesto Metro Conference Championships. The arrangement appears to have worked well.
How well will be determined at next week’s CIF State Championships in Bakersfield.
“I’ve gotten a lot better working with him,” said the unbeaten Saavedra, who handed McCoy his only loss this season – a double-overtime soap opera – at Modesto’s Big Kat Klassic. “Our goal is to be on top next week.”
It makes sense, given the fact they’re close in size. Saavedra is ranked second in the nation at 126, and McCoy is eighth at 138. Now that they’ve pooled their resources, what’s next?
“I feel great coming in (to state) with my weight, speed and strength,” Kent said. “Now I’ve got to be the state champion.”
Kent, third at Masters and state last year, already has taken the next step. He marched through the Masters field at Stockton Arena and finished the job with a confident 6-0 shutout over Mason Boutain of Benicia.
The performance was eerily similar to what Saavedra dished out about 15 minutes before – a 13-4 major decision over Curtis Booth of Folsom. The crowd was startled when Saavedra allowed an early takedown, but all things returned to normal within about 30 seconds.
“I wasn’t expecting it (the takedown). Things happen,” he said. “I know I can beat all these kids. I just have to have the right mindset.”
That’s also a good game plan for next week. Saavedra and Kent anchor 22 Stanislaus District qualifiers – featuring five Masters champions – who will match up against the state’s best.
The two city champions join Oakdale sophomore Abel Garcia (170), Pitman senior Angel Velasquez (132) and Buhach Colony senior Jay Johnson (195) who posed at the top of the podium. The top six in each weight class advanced to the final meet.
Oakdale, the runner-up in the team standings behind Del Oro, will send seven to Bakersfield. One, senior Nico Colunga, will shake off his loss in the Masters final and proceed to state for the fourth time.
Garcia performed with confidence as he dispatched Vista del Lago’s Ben Johnson 9-4 for the third time this season. Rather than protect his lead in the final moments, Garcia attacked for more points.
“I had confidence with my takedowns, so I put on a show for the crowd with some takedowns to secure the win,” he said. “My training was on point this season. My diet was on point, and my mental preparation was on point.”
Velasquez, the Modesto High transfer who became eligible only three weeks ago, wished his 4-0 win in the final over Zack Ruybal of Del Oro was more lopsided. His fourth at state last year won’t suffice this time.
“I won’t be satisfied until I win a state title,” Velasquez said. “It’s my last time.”
Velasquez leads a Pitman school-record four qualifiers to the state meet. They’ll lead the Central California Conference contingent along with Johnson, whose career blossomed at the perfect moment.
Johnson had lost twice this season to Lincoln’s Yates Hunter, including a 5-2 decision during last week’s D-I AA title match. The third collision, however, proved far different. In the third overtime, Johnson quickly bounced to his feet for the escape point and a 3-2 title-winning victory.
“I kept my focus. The other times, I just thought too much,” Johnson said. “This time, I didn’t think. I just wrestled.”
As usual, the Masters produced excitement. Sophomore Ivan Gomez placed fourth at 106 and became the first Waterford student-athlete since brother Erick (2010) to qualify for state.
Then there was Grace Davis senior Bobby Posadas (182), whose Masters appeared to be doomed after he was pinned in the first round Friday by Escalon’s Matt Gallego. Posadas found energy in the consolation bracket, however, and won six consecutive matches, featuring an avenging 4-0 victory over Gallego.
It wasn’t until he dropped the third-place match to Oakdale’s Frankie Trent – Trent scored an escape in the final seconds to win 4-3 – that Posadas assessed his work. Incredibly, he nearly matched Trent’s own seven-win tour de force in consolation last year.
That said, Posadas’ consolation prize is the one he wanted all along. He motors down Highway 99 with the rest of the qualifiers to California prep wrestling’s holy grail.