When seniors Rudi Burtschi, Louis Bland and Trevor Machado-Ching wrestle this season, all three will be chasing history.
Bland, who wrestles for Central Catholic High School, is trying to become only the 13th three-time state champion in California history. He'll also try to become California's fifth four-time state finalist.
Burtschi, who competes for Oakdale, won the 189-pound state championship last year. This year, he'll go at 215 pounds, and will try to become the first Mustang wrestler to win two state titles.
Machado-Ching also wrestles for Oakdale. He's a middleweight who won a state title as a freshman. Like Burtschi, he's hoping to become Oakdale's first two-time state champ.
The three wrestlers are part of a stellar group of Stanislaus District seniors, 13 of whom qualified for last year's CIF State Wrestling Championships in Bakersfield.
Four of those wrestlers -- Burtschi, Bland, Merced's Chris Urquizo and Pitman's Vincent Perez -- placed in the state meet last year. Burtschi, Bland and Urquizo were all state finalists.
Burtschi is the area's lone returning state champion. He's expected to compete at 215 pounds, where he's ranked No. 1 in the state, according to The California Wrestler magazine.
Burtschi was one of California's most dominant wrestlers down the stretch as a junior. He won 20 consecutive matches by pin -- all the way into the state semifinals. He controlled his final two opponents for an improbable state title. This year, he won't be sneaking up on anybody.
Bland won state titles as a freshman and sophomore before losing to Ponderosa's Justin Danz at 171 pounds in last year's final. While his quest to become California's second four-time champion is over, he can still make history with another state title. He's the top-ranked wrestler in the state at 189 pounds.
Bland, a top football player as well, will get a late start to the season. His Raiders football team plays in the CIF State Division III championship bowl game on Saturday. Wrestling coach Steve Strange said Bland could see his first action at the Western Invitational at Modesto Junior College on Dec. 21-22.
Machado-Ching's roller coaster career began when he won a state title at 103 pounds as a freshman. He placed fourth as a sophomore and was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma soon after that. He was declared cancer-free and qualified for the state meet as a junior. And this year, Machado-Ching is ranked No. 1 in the state at 145 pounds. He recently committed to wrestle for UC Davis.
Perez made Pitman history when he became the school's first state placer. He was eighth at 103 pounds last year. This year, he's expected to again compete at 103 pounds, where he's ranked No. 2 in the state.
Bee staff writer Will DeBoard can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2300.
Central Catholic senior
Heavyweight came into his own last year, when he advanced to the state meet despite a really tough group of heavies within the Sac-Joaquin Section. Is currently ranked No. 3 in the state at heavyweight.
Placed seventh in last year's section meet at 119 pounds, then saw his ticket punched to state when that weight class was given a seventh berth. He and Flores are expected to be the Knights' leaders this season. Should compete at 125 pounds.
Became Pitman's second wrestler to advance to the state meet when he placed fifth in the section at 145 pounds. Won the Central California Conference and section Division I championships. Went 0-2 at state.
Buhach Colony senior
The lone remaining state qualifier from one of the area's top teams last season, White (above right) opened his season strong with an impressive victory at 145 pounds at the Riddle Tournament in Oakdale. Went 0-2 in the 2007 state meet.
Was a surprise state finalist at 140 pounds as a sophomore last year, and hopes to keep the momentum going. He's ranked No. 3 in the state at 152 pounds this year. That's a loaded weight class that includes defending state champion Anthony Meza of Vista-San Diego
The Bee's 2006 wrestler of the year won a state title at 189 pounds last season. He had a run of 20 consecutive victories via fall. He's ranked No. 1 in the state at 215 pounds, just ahead of fellow section wrestler Matt Gibson of Vallejo-based Jesse Bethel.
Won a state championship at 103 pounds as a freshman, has medaled at state twice and has advanced to state all three years. He's verbally committed to wrestle for UC Davis next year. Ranked No. 1 in the state at 145 pounds.
Like Flores, another surprise state qualifier at 103 pounds after placing seventh in the section last year. He went 0-2 at state last year. As Escalon's lone returning state qualifier, he must set the tone as a leader for this year's team.
Central Catholic senior
Won state titles as a freshman and sophomore before placing second at 171 pounds last year. His coach, Steve Strange, says Bland (above left) is receiving recruiting calls from eight different Big 10 schools. Ranked No. 1 in the state at 189 pounds.
Central Catholic senior
Battled shoulder injury for most of last year, but still advanced to the state meet last year at 152 pounds. Has verbally committed to Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo. Ranked No. 6 in the state at 160 pounds.
Already holds the Pitman career wins mark with 63. He should add much more this year. Is qualified to compete at 103 pounds for the second consecutive season. He was eighth in the state last year, and enters this season ranked No. 2.
An area surprise state meet qualifier as a junior at 103 pounds, Flores (at top of photo on the left) is taller than most in his weight class. He's already off to a strong start: He won Oakdale's James Riddle Classic as well as the Sheldon Duals at 103 pounds.
ANDREW VANDER POEL
Los Banos senior
Made the varsity team when a teammate was injured, and made the most of it with a sixth-place finish in the section and a berth in the state meet. He won a match at the state meet before being eliminated.
Went 1-2 at the state meet last year at 103 pounds. Placed third in the section as well. Is currently ranked among the top 14 wrestlers in the state at 112 pounds according to The California Wrestler magazine.
STORIES TO WATCH
The Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Meet was a rousing success at the Stockton Arena, its new home for the next five years. But this year, the masters meet moves to the University of the Pacific because of a calendar conflict with Disney on Ice.
Two section divisional meets will be in the southern half of the section as well. The Division I South championships will be at McNair High in Stockton. And Ripon hosts the Division V championships.
Davis is one of the preseason favorites to win the Modesto Metro Conference thanks in part to a possible seven sophomores in the starting lineup. The Spartans will battle defending champion Downey for the league title.
Johansen has a new coach in former Downey assistant Jose Costello, and a few new names to watch out for. Sophomore twin brothers Javier and Jose Brambila wrestled in Alaska last year. And 145-pound freshman Chris Ramirez lived in Iowa -- the country's top wrestling hotbed -- before coming to Modesto. Costello says Ramirez already wrestles like a four-year varsity competitor.
Cesar Rubalcava returns as Waterford's head coach, and he's got a strong group of upperweight wrestlers led by Jeff Moran (outstanding heavyweight at Oakdale's Riddle Tournament) and Marcus McIlwain (also a winner at the Riddle). Rubalcava says he's got 47 wrestlers out for the team.
The Central California Conference is looking particularly tough. Los Banos defeated defending league champion Buhach Colony in their conference opener, and Turlock is going to be in the mix as well. Pitman has two of the better individuals in Vincent Perez and Cesar Padilla. Atwater coach Paul Bristow says he's got 70 kids out this year -- the most he's had in five years. Golden Valley returns 10 starters from last year's team, and dominated Downey in a non-league dual meet earlier this season.
Escalon also has over 40 wrestlers competing, led by state qualifier Anthony Rodriquez. Cougars head coach Derek Scott says he's got several wrestlers who are "close to the next level." Besides Rodriquez, watch for a big year from two-time section masters meet qualifier Bryan Toy.
Longtime Turlock assistant and last year's head coach at Waterford Dave Exline is the new head coach at Hilmar. He says he's got a young team.
With three potential state medalists, Central Catholic is the top state-ranked local team at No. 7. The only other district team to be ranked among the state's top 20 by The California Wrestler is Oakdale (No. 11).
-- WILL DeBOARD