The Metro Conference wrestling championship tournament, slated Saturday at Eastlake High School, looks to be particularly intriguing this year with parity ruling many weight classes.
Will the San Ysidro Cougars repeat as conference champions or will that honor go to the Hilltop Lancers, Otay Ranch Mustangs, Eastlake Titans or Olympian Eagles?
Who will be hot and who will be cold?
“For us to win as a team, we’ll have to make some sacrifices as a group, so we can make the weight classes give us the most points,” Hilltop coach Thomas Juarez said.
The Lancers and Mustangs were to duel Thursday to determine this year’s Mesa League dual championship while San Ysidro looked to repeat as South Bay League champions.
How competitive is this year’s field? Visiting Eastlake edged Otay Ranch, 33-32, in a high impact dual on Jan. 31.
The Titans led 9-0 after the opening two matches before the Mustangs went up 14-9 on the strength of three straight wins — a pin by Jake Schaeffer (120), a 25-10 technical fall by state medalist Tommy Espinoza (126) and a 3-0 minor decision by Jacob Valois (132).
Eastlake then rattled off three consecutive wins of its own, including pins by Casey Stanko (138) and Erich Loechner (152) and a clutch triple-overtime victory at 145 pounds by Yoab Garcia, to zip in front 24-14.
The momentum then swung back to Otay Ranch with wins in the next two matches (a 3-1 decision by Shawn Cooker and a 46-second pin by Francisco Solis) to narrow the Titan lead to 24-23.
The teams split the final four matches. Jibreel Keddo pinned Austin Ortiz in 1:22 at 195 pounds to put the Mustangs back on top 29-27. But that lead proved fleeting as Rodneal Ordonez recorded a third-period pin at 220 pounds to give Eastlake a 33-29 edge heading into the final match.
A pin or technical fall by Rasheed Farha in the heavyweight match would have catapulted the Mustangs — to that point undefeated in league duals — to a dramatic come-from-behind victory. But Farha, wrestling two weight classes up, could only manage a 12-9 victory against his Titan opponent Jamar Adams.
Farha won the finale but Eastlake took the one-point team victory.
Each team won seven matches.
The outcome of last Saturday’s fourth annual South Bay Invitational at Otay Ranch followed the same scenario: a spate of exceedingly close match-ups. Twenty-one points separated the top eight teams; a mere nine points separated five teams.
The Mustangs notched a third place finish — just one point behind second place Orange Glen and five points behind team champion Poway.
Hilltop finished in a tie for seventh place with San Pasqual while Olympian finished 10th. Castle Park (14th) finished eight points ahead of Chula Vista (15th) while Montgomery (16th), Mater Dei Catholic (18th) and Southwest (19th) were separated by four points.
However, it should be noted that none of the competing teams were at full strength.
So, who are the wrestlers to beat on Saturday?
Three South County grapplers walked off the mat last weekend with gold medals: Hilltop’s Jordan Griffin (120) and Castle Park’s Carlos O’Connor (160) and Daniel Hernandez (182).
Hernandez won the outstanding upper weight award.
O’Connor and Hernandez both finished with four pins in as many matches. Hernandez may have won the tiebreaker for MVP honors based on least time spent on the mat. Hernandez’s pin times were 0:36, 0:40, 1:22 and 3:38 for a total of 6:16 on the mat.
O’Connor, who was no less impressive in dispatching his opponents, had pins of 0:53, 1:06, 1:30 and 4:00 for a total time of 7:29.
CPHS coach Robert Schertzer said his top two mat men are wrestling with confidence at this point of the season — and that’s dangerous for opponents.
Hernandez, who earned upper weight MVP honors at last year’s conference finals (Otay’s Espinoza was the lower weight MVP), will be out to erase a disappointing performance at last year’s CIF divisionals.
“This means everything to me right now,” Hernandez after receiving the South Bay Invitational MVP award. “I’ve been working hard in all the practices this year.”
It looks to be paying dividends.
Griffin looked slick and motivated in each one of his three matches, winning by falls of 2:40 and 1:41 and then recording a smart 19-9 major decision over Clairemont’s Keagan Rank in the championship round.
Rank had looked like a monster on the mat with pins in his opening three matches.
Four more Metro grapplers recorded runner-up finishes: Olympian’s Bryan Sanchez (106), Mater Dei Catholic’s Alonso Alzua (152), Hilltop’s Anthony Ardagna (160) and Southwest’s Oscar Lezcano (220).
There was a horde of Metro medalists at last Saturday’s event.
Third-place awards went to Olympian’s Alvin Obellos (126), Southwest’s Israel Huizar (132), Mater Dei Catholic’s Alejandro Rivera (138), Otay Ranch’s Keddo (182), Montgomery’s Miguel Ballesteros (195) and Chula Vista’s Hui Wolfgramm (220).
Fourth-place medals were awarded to Montgomery’s Andrew Jaffe (145), Otay Ranch’s Cooker (160) and MDC’s Eddie Sebring (285).
Fifth-place medalists included Hilltop’s Carlos Callejas (113), Otay Ranch’s Schaeffer (120) and Valois (132), Chula Vista’s Jesse Orduno (138), Eastlake’s Garcia (145) and Ortiz (195), Hilltop’s David Velazquez (170) and Otay Ranch’s Alex Valenzuela (285).
Sixth-place medals went to Montgomery’s Adrian Lopez (113), Olympian’s Dante Preciado (120), Southwest’s David Quinones (126), Chula Vista’s Joey Bamba (160) and Otay Ranch’s Andy Silva (182) and Mustafa Farha (195).
Saturday's Metro finals are scheduled to start at 9 a.m.