Fri, Jan 13 2012 02:04 PM Posted By: Phillip Brents
The high school wrestling season is nearing its midseason mark and that means weight certification for many as they work off those holiday pounds. A number of the region’s top mat men made the successful transition to new weight classes at last Saturday’s Monte Vista Invitational while others held onto their turf in fending off the newcomers.
The Metro Conference, no longer the doormat of the San Diego Section, put on another impressive showing as South County wrestlers earned berths in six of the 14 championship matches and came home with three gold medals.
Otay Ranch’s Tommy Espinoza is among those dropping down a weight class in January. A seventh place state medalist at 103 pounds last year, he moved down from the 113-pound division he wrestled in during December to the newly adjusted 106-pound category, winning the weight class at the 27-team Monte Vista tourney with a 12-5 finals decision against Palo Verde’s Daniel Talamante.
Espinoza, last year’s 103-pound San Diego Masters champion, now tops the section’s 106-pound rankings with an unblemished 17-0 record.
“My goal remains the same — state,” he said succinctly.
Joining the incredibly focused and dedicated Espinoza atop the awards stand at Monte Vista High School were Hilltop’s Jordan Griffin (113 champion) and Eastlake’s Gabe Casillas (285 champion). Scoring runner-up finishes were Chula Vista’s Damian Alcala (120) and Bogart Marquez (145) and Eastlake’s Casey Stanko (138).
Griffin (13-4) pinned El Cajon Valley’s Jake Alcarez in 40 seconds in the championship round while Casillas (6-1) recorded a fall in 2:51 in his finals match against Mt. Miguel’s Josh Tausaga.
Alcala dropped an 8-6 overtime match to Monte Vista’s Everett Pratt while Stanko accomplished himself well in a 9-6 finals setback to Helix’s Ridvan Berikov (25-2). Marquez lost a 14-7 decision to Rancho Buena Vista’s Undre Hobson, the runner-up at December’s prestigious El Cajon Invitational.
Espinoza, who claimed the 113-pound title at the ECI, opened the Monte Vista tourney with falls of 20 seconds and 3:39 before winning a hard-fought 11-7 semifinal match against Hilltop’s Cruz Jaime.
Jaime eventually wrestled back to claim third place in the weight division with a 14-2 major decision against Steele Canyon’s Brett Maynard to finish 4-1 on the day.
Griffin was making his first finals appearance of the season after previously placing third at both the Mar Vista Battle by the Beach and Mira Mesa Marauder Invitational tourneys and fourth at the ECI. Based on those previous performances, he was seeded first at the Monte Vista tournament, and deservedly so.
“I’ve lost to some of the top guys but I know I can fix a lot of things,” he said.
Griffin had an exceptional sophomore year that ended with a fifth-place showing at the Masters finals. “I kind of placed above expectations last year but this year I want to place at Masters and go to state,” he said.
The Hilltop junior apparently has begun to make an impression on other coaches. He earned honors as the outstanding lower weight wrestler at the Monte Vista tourney. Griffin made three trips to the mat during the day and came away with three first-period pins. He opened with falls of 1:46 and 1:08.
“It means a lot,” he said in receiving the award. “I’ve been working hard. It feels good to know my training is paying off.”
Griffin enters this week ranked third in the section. Amazingly, he has only been wrestling since the eighth grade. “It’s the toughest sport out there — I went for the challenge,” he said.
Stanko, meanwhile, reached a milestone in his prep career by qualifying for his first invitational championship match. He was seeded second at the Monte Vista tourney and scored successive victories against grapplers from El Cajon Valley, La Jolla and Granite Hills (a tense 7-5 semifinal decision against Eddie Valencia) to meet Bekirov in the final.
“I was pretty excited when I first learned that I was seeded second,” said Stanko, last year’s Metro champion at 142 pounds. “I set a goal to at least match my seeding and try to place above it.”
He finished third at December’s ECI after being seeded 16th.
Both Alcala and Marquez continue to lead the Spartans. Marquez earned the No. 1 seed in his weight class at the Monte Vista tourney while Alcala was seeded second.
Both finished third at the ECI, but Alcala had the more impressive run this time with three consecutive pins to reach the championship round. Marquez opened with two pins.
Casillas, another third-place medalist at December’s ECI, placed his name firmly among state meet hopefuls this season with three pins, including two in the first period, to win the heavyweight division at the Monte Vista event. The Titan grappler put on a titanic performance with pins of 31 seconds and 1:10 in his opening two matches.
He enters the week ranked fourth in the section.
Overall, 21 Metro mat men carried home trophies. Third-place award-winners also included Mater Dei Catholic’s Alejandro Rivera (138), Mar Vista’s Ricardo Moriel (170) and Hilltop’s Claudio Narez-Ortiz (285) while Mar Vista’s Jesse Terminel (120), Olympian’s Joey Schaeffer (132), Hilltop’s Albert Navarro (145), Mar Vista’s Jon Nicoloff (195) and MDC’s Mike Gamboa (220) all finished fourth.
Fifth-place awards went to Otay Ranch’s Marcos Santana (113), Manuel Razo (145), Kyle Petrin (152) and Adam Olimski (160), Olympian’s Jose Gonzalez (120) and Devon Flores (182) and Sweetwater’s Fernando Badilla (195).
Hilltop was the top Metro finisher, tying El Cajon Valley for fifth place with 116 points. Steele Canyon won the team championship with 184.5 points, followed by runner-up RBV with 153 points, third place Monte Vista with 148 points and fourth place La Jolla with 116 points.
Otay Ranch finished ninth with 101.5 points, followed by Olympian in 12th place with 92 points, Eastlake in 14th place with 78 points, Mar Vista in 16th place with 74 points, Chula Vista in 17th place with 62 points, Mater Dei Catholic in 20th place with 42 points and Sweetwater in 25th place with 23 points.
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