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Metro mat men star at fabled El Cajon Invitational wrestling tourney Phillip Brents | Fri, Dec 23 2011 12:15 PM

The El Cajon Invitational, traditionally the grandest of all regular season San Diego Section wrestling tournaments, returned to its traditional pre-Christmas time slot last weekend at Otay Ranch High School, with much support from area teams. Of the 33 teams competing in this year’s tournament, 32 were from the San Diego Section.

While the overall strength of this year’s field might not have been up to the best editions in the event’s illustrious 41-year-history, what hasn’t changed is the significance of placing in the tournament.

Three Metro Conference grapplers, in particular, can hold their heads high — and likely climb up the San Diego Section rankings — after qualifying for the championship round of Saturday’s finals. They were among an impressive list of 18 South County award-winners.

•Otay Ranch junior Tommy Espinoza defeated Valhalla’s Shawn Miller by a 13-3 major decision to capture the 113-pound weight class title, improving his undefeated record to 13-0 in the process.

•Eastlake’s Mathias Mendillo (4-1) finished second in his 145-pound division following a loss by fall to Pierre Gaud (5-0) from team champion Arizona Cibola.

•Eastlake’s Alejandro Gil (3-1) posted a runner-up finish in his 195-pound weight class following a 3-1 loss to Mira Mesa’s Gary Lee (7-3).

Espinoza ranks as the Metro’s resident superstar after capturing a seventh-place medal at last season’s state championship tournament. His slick moves, quick reflexes and gritty mental determination once again rank him among the section’s elite wrestlers this season.

He finished 9-0 at the season opening Glendora dual tournament and opened the ECI with a pair of pins to meet Cibola’s Andres Gandara in the semifinals. Espinoza, last season’s Division I and San Diego Masters champion at 103 pounds, defeated Gandara, 11-4, to meet Miller, last season’s Division II champion at 103 pounds, in the championship round.

Within seconds of the opening whistle, Espinoza had the lead on Miller. And there was no letting up from there as the Mustang grappler put on a wrestling clinic for the crowd.

“A lot about wrestling is mental,” Espinoza said matter-of-factly. “If you think you are going to win when you go out there, usually you win. If you go out there unsure about your chances of winning, usually you end up losing.”

Espinoza’s mental prowess is huge. He lists his strengths as his positive attitude and dedication.
“The only thing I want more than anything is to be a state champion,” he said. “I’m working hard every day to achieve that. My motto has always been that what matters most happens in the postseason. The wrestling season is a long road.”

Espinoza entered the ECI tournament ranked seventh in the state at 113 pounds, second in the section to Central Union’s Micah Perez (the MVP light weight at the season opening Mar Vista Battle by the Beach tournament).

Meanwhile, the ECI tournament was the first of the season for Mendillo, the 2010-11 Metro champion at 127 pounds.  The EHS senior earned the No. 1 seed in his weight bracket and promptly recorded four consecutive victories — one by a 51-second pin and a pair of major decisions (20-6 and 15-7) — to meet Gaud, the No. 2 seed, in the final.

“He was tough, and obviously the better wrestler, but it’s nice to know that it took someone from a different state to beat me,” Mendillo said with an air of pride.

Gil, another EHS senior, helped define the slew of upsets recorded throughout the two days of competition. Seeded fifth, Gil edged fourth-seeded Martin Suaste of Torrey Pines, 4-3, in the quarterfinals and then defeated top-seeded Rahseed Farha of Otay Ranch by an 11-4 decision in the semifinals.

But Mira Mesa’s Lee, seeded third, had his own ideas of winning the tournament after second-seeded Adrian Teran of Mt. Carmel was ousted from the championship bracket with a loss to seventh-seeded Jordan Novick of Poway in the first round. Lee topped Novick, 7-5, in the semifinals.

Novick battled back to place third in the weight class while Farha finished sixth.

Mat attack
The Metro Conference was well represented at this year’s ECI with six teams. Eastlake was the highest finisher with a solid fifth-place finish, followed by Hilltop (eighth), Bonita Vista (13th), Otay Ranch (19th), Chula Vista (tied for 23rd) and Mater Dei Catholic (29th).

The top eight place-finishers in each weight class received awards. All competing Metro teams came away with at least one individual placer.

Eastlake had five award-winners while Hilltop and Bonita Vista each had four award-winners, Otay Ranch and Chula Vista each had two award-winners and Mater Dei came away with one award-winner.

Joining Mendillo and Gil with awards were Eastlake teammates Casey Stanko (third, 138), Eduardo Hernandez (seventh, 160) and Gabriel Casillas (third, 285).

Hilltop’s award-winners included Cruz Jaime (fourth, 106), Jordan Griffin (fourth, 113), Tyler Kekic (eighth, 182) and Claudio Narez-Ortiz (fourth, 285).

Bonita Vista’s award-winners included Paul Sosa (third, 106), Aaron Schmid (seventh, 120), Allin Breland (sixth, 170) and Zach Ayala (seventh, 220).

Chula Vista’s award-winners included Damian Alcala (third, 120) and Bogart Marquez (third, 152).

Also earning awards were Otay Ranch’s Farha (sixth, 195) and Mater Dei’s Michael Gamboa (fifth, 220).

BV’s Sosa edged Hilltop’s Jaime, 8-7, in their third-place match at 106 pounds. The two had met earlier in the quarterfinals, with Sosa winning 9-2 to advance to the semis against Arizona state champion Rafael Jaimes of Cibola.

Stanko had a marathon journey over the two days of competition. He won an out-bracket match against Scripps Ranch’s Andrew Galleoski by a 2:55 pin to slide into the position on the bracket reserved for the No. 16 seed.

Stanko dropped a 12-4 major decision to top-seeded Pablo Moreno of Cibola, then went to work by winning six consecutive matches in the wrestle-backs to finish 7-1.

The EHS grappler scored two pins and a 9-1 major decision to stave off elimination and then advanced up the medal ranks with victories against Mt. Miguel’s Vincent Richmond (6-2), Mt. Carmel’s Jun Bee (11-9) and finally, in the third-place match, Poway’s Daniel Martin (6-5).

Stanko also competes in lacrosse during the spring and ran cross country during the just completed fall season. “I don’t wrestle year-round, so a lot of what I’ve accomplished is due to heart,” he said.

CVHS coach Daryl Butterfield lauded the performances by both Alcala and Marquez in securing third-place showings.

Alcala upheld his No. 3 seed by defeating Poway’s Kimo Dial by a 4-3 decision.

Marquez, seeded fourth in his weight, was particularly impressive with four pins and a 13-3 major decision in his overall 5-1 ECI outing. Marquez dispensed with Mira Mesa’s Jeff Hawkes-Robinson in 4:43 to close out his mat odyssey.

“It means a lot to the younger wrestlers on the team who look up to these guys for leadership,” Butterfield said. “It’s a source of pride when they see these guys place in a major tournament like this, to place among the best in San Diego. The younger guys buy into it and they’re carrying it on.”

Casillas was seeded second but was felled by Escondido’s James Cannon (the eventual weight class champion and tournament upper weight MVP) in the semifinals. The EHS wrestler followed with a pair of pins in the consolation round to give him four in the tournament. Casillas pinned Hilltop’s Narez-Ortiz in 1:47 in an all-Metro bronze medal match-up.

Cibola, led by lower weight MVP Isaac Camarillo (126 pounds), captured the team title at this year’s ECI, followed by Poway (second), Rancho Buena Vista (third), Mt. Carmel (fourth), Eastlake (fifth) and Escondido (sixth).

Escondido’s Cannon improved to 14-0 with 13 falls after pinning Mt. Miguel’s Josh Tausaga in 1:40 to win the 285-pound division. Cannon finished the tourney with four pins, including one in just 18 seconds. Three came in the first period.

Up next is the Monte Vista Invitational Jan. 7 at Monte Vista High School.

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