The Metro Conference is no longer the doormat of San Diego Section wrestling. That was demonstrated once again by the results of last weekend's Masters state qualifying tournament. Four Metro mat men will make the trek to next weekend's state championship tournament in Bakersfield.
For good measure, seven more South County grapplers – for a total of 11 – earned medals in the section's crown jewel tournament.
“It's a good showing for the Metro,” said Otay Ranch head coach Gabe Ruz, whose Mustangs added two more state qualifiers to the program's thoroughbred stable. “I'm glad the level of wrestling is rising. I think there are some quality teams in the Metro, and I really think we have some great individuals who will represent us at the state championship.”
This year's crop of Metro state qualifiers is led by San Ysidro senior Miguel Flores, who captured the 132-pound Masters championship with an exciting last-second 4-3 victory against top-seeded Adrian Tovar of Poway, as well as Mater Dei Catholic senior Sean O'Rourke and Otay Ranch seniors Jacob Schaeffer and Rasheed Farha.
The top three place-finishers in each of 14 weight classes at the Masters finals qualified to compete at the state tournament, which will take place Friday and Saturday.
Schaeffer (120) and O'Rourke (138) both finished second in their respective weight classes while Farha (220) placed third.
The three Masters finalists gave the Metro Conference important representation at the section finals. The City Conference also had three Masters finalists and one champion while the Grossmont Conference had one Masters finalist and one champion.
“Outstanding,” Mater Dei Catholic coach Scott Ullsperger underscored. “A good year for South Bay.”
Undoubtedly, Flores provided the highlight of the two-day event at Mission Hills High School by winning his weight class. Team champion Poway had 10 Masters finals qualifiers and eight won coveted weight class titles.
Flores stood in the way of Tovar's bid for Masters immortality.
Ahead early 3-1, Flores weathered a late takedown by the Poway senior to tie the match 3-3 by recording a dramatic one-point escape with 10 seconds remaining.
The final seconds were frantic, with Tovar battling the ticking clock in desperation for a match-winning takedown that never occurred.
The win by Flores made amends for a 1-0 loss to Tovar at the preceding week's Division II finals.
“After I got the escape, that was a big bonus for me,” admitted Flores, who improved his season record to an impressive 42-2. “If I didn't get that escape point and the match went into overtime, I would have been forced to get a takedown (to win).”
Flores earns dual honors as the school's first state qualifier and first Masters champion.
“It feels really good,” said Flores, who finished 4-0 at Masters with two pins, including a 4:59 fall in the semifinals against Brawley's Jesse Ruelas, the Division III champion, to punch his ticket to the state meet. “I'm the first wrestler from my school to ever go to state. Training hard, getting up early every day, wrestling year-round – that's what's gotten me this far.”
Schaeffer, O'Rourke and Farha all qualified for Masters as divisional champions – Schaeffer and Farha at the Division I meet and O'Rourke at the Division IV meet.
Schaeffer and O'Rourke both suffered shutout losses to Poway wrestlers at the Masters finals. Schaeffer (27-6) dropped a 6-0 decision to senior Taylor Dial (35-7) while O'Rourke (41-6) dropped a 7-0 decision to senior Sergio Enloe (37-3).
Dial entered Masters ranked seventh in the state was Enloe was ranked fifth.
Both Metro mat men qualified for the state meet with semifinal wins. Schaeffer edged second-seeded Isaac Moreno of Brawley, 3-2, while O'Rourke pinned Vista's Carlos Perez in 5:19.
O'Rourke, seeded second, was dominant in his weight class with three pins, including two first-period falls, leading up to the finals to give him eight in 11 post-season matches, including the Metro finals on Feb. 15.
“It was tough (getting to the Masters finals),” admitted O'Rourke admitted, who etched his name in the history book as the first state qualifier from Mater Dei Catholic. “I just kept my eyes on the prize and never stopped wrestling hard every match.”
Schaeffer extended his post-season record to 10-1, starting with the conference tournament in which he went 2-0 with a 52-second pin and 9-0 major decision. He tacked on four more wins at the Division I tournament in which he allowed only two technical points scored against him on the day while recording 17-2 and 16-0 technical falls, a 9-0 major decision in the semifinals against top-seeded Owen Weisel of Carlsbad and a 3-0 shutout win in the finals against Calexico's Robert Tabarez.
The Otay Ranch grappler had to battle hard to find success at Masters after drawing a poor seed. He opened the tournament with a rematch against Weisel, winning 6-2, before meeting third-seeded Tsuneharu Ramirez of La Costa Canyon in the quarterfinals, winning 3-1, and then Moreno, the Division III champion, in the semifinals.
Schaeffer follows in the footsteps of former Mustang greats Eddie Estevez and Tommy Espinoza, both heralded state medalists.
“It feels great,” Schaeffer said. “Otay Ranch has had a state qualifier every year for the last six years. A lot of people didn't give me a lot or credit to do this well. I was seeded 11th coming into this tournament. It feels so great, I've worked hard so many years for this.”
Run to the roses
Of the Metro’s four state qualifiers, Farha had perhaps the most nerve-racking task of doing.
After pinning El Capitan’s Kevin Hoyt in his first match, Farha dropped an 8-1 decision to San Marcos’ Matthew Garcia in the quarterfinals. The loss dropped the recently-crowned Division I champion to the single-elimination wrestle-backs where one false move meant elimination from the tournament.
Farha passed his first test by eliminating La Costa Canyon’s Kellen Cary by a 4:05 pin in his first consolation-round match and then recording a 16-1 technical fall in the consolation quarterfinals to eliminate Rancho Buena Vista’s Shane McNary.
The two elimination victories advanced the Otay Ranch wrestler to the consolations semifinals to determine who would advance to the third-place match and who would drop to the fifth-place match.
Farha drew Division III champion Trae Rodriguez of Ramona, with the winner getting a chance to contend for the final state qualifying berth in the weight class and the loser essentially going on to wrestle for pride.
Farha scored a two-point reversal with 12 seconds left to win 4-3.
It didn’t get any easier from there. Farha’s next match was against Poway’s Liam Sorahan, the top-seeded wrestler in the tournament.
The pair went into overtime tied 1-1, placing even more pressure on the two grapplers each vying for a trip to the state meet.
But the Otay Ranch mat man maintained his composure as well as his balance.
Farha won in the dying seconds of the one-minute period on a takedown at the edge of the mat.
“Speechless,” the Mustang grappler said. “I can't think of anything to say.”
Ruz and Farha's father, Mohammad, a state medalist in 1994 while attending Hoover High School, had plenty to say, however.
In fact, the two coaches celebrated with more gusto than did the match-winner.
“They had wrestled before; the Poway boy had beat him by two points,” Ruz noted. “It was a close match, and we knew his strategy and Rasheed wrestled a very smart match. That was an exciting win. I'm so happy for him.”
The win in the Masters state-qualifying third-place match blotted out Farha’s disappointing finish at the Metro Conference finals two weekends before when he had to withdraw in the championship match due to an back injury (strained back muscles).
The Otay Ranch wrestler came back healed and ready for battle en route to claiming the Division I title the following week. He finished 5-1 at the two-day Masters meet.
“Hard work, dedication and perseverance,” Mohammad Farha said when asked about his son’s recovery process. “We knew we had to continue to work hard and get better, go after it.”
Ruz, an Olympian for Mexico at the 1968 and 1972 Summer Games, has now coached wrestlers to the high school state tournament at three different schools in the Sweetwater district — Montgomery, Bonita Vista and Otay Ranch.
“It's all about working the kids – getting them in condition,” he said. “In this sport, it's all about being in shape. If you're in shape, there's a good chance you'll do well.”
It’s likely also due to a bit of coaching savvy as well on Ruz’s part.
Mettle to medal Though only the top three place-finishers qualified for the state meet, the top six place-winners at the Masters received medals.
Also receiving medals (though not qualifying for the state meet) were Mar Vista freshman Aaron Olmos (fourth, 145), Bonita Vista’s Andy Garcia (fourth, 152), Olympian sophomore Dante Preciado (fifth, 128), Mar Vista’s Josh Walters (fifth, 132), Roberto A La Torre (fifth, 138), Hilltop’s Xavier Plascencia (fifth, 145) and Otay Ranch’s Adrian Hernandez (sixth, 160).
Olmos and Diaz both lost bids to advance to this weekend’s state meet with losses in the Masters third-place match.
Olmos’ loss was especially heart-breaking and that was evidenced on his face in a 6-5 loss to El Cajon Valley senior Leon Shlemoon.
The two wrestlers had engaged in an epic double-overtime encounter the previous week, with Shlemoon pulling off a 9-8 win after a referee’s decision overruled an apparent 8-7 win by the freshman sensation at the end of regulation.
Shlemoon’s key win earned him the No. 3 seed at Masters while Olmos, who skipped the Metro finals while nursing a minor injury, was seeded fourth.
Shlemoon won his opening two matches by scores of 15-1 and 15-0 but suffered a narrow 5-4 setback in the semifinals to second-seeded Alex McIntyre of La Costa Canyon.
Olmos also won his opening two matches before suffering a loss — 15-0 to Poway’s Ralph Tovar — in the semifinals.
Both wrestlers were then faced with winning two more matches to successfully qualify for the state meet.
Shlemoon pinned Holtville’s Jessy Diaz in 4:28 in the consolation semifinals while Olmos edged Hilltop’s Plascencia in overtime to advance to the critical winner-take-all third-place match-up.
The high profile rematch proved to be just as exciting.
Shlemoon moved out to early leads of 3-1 and 5-1 but takedowns by the Mar Vista super frosh narrowed the score to 6-5 with four seconds left.
But Olmos did not have time to complete a comeback and Shlemoon (43-6) stood triumphant in the most important match of the season.
“It’s amazing,” Shlemoon said. “It was really intense. I knew I just had to pull it out.”
MVHS coach Mario Olmos had nothing but positives to say about his two Masters medalists.
“Josh wrestled a great consolation round,” the Mariners mat boss said. “He just made one little mistake to Brawley’s Ruelas (in the consolation semifinals). He was just one point away from going to the third-place match.”
The elder Olmos was equally complimentary of his son.
“Mateo (Aaron’s nickname) had an incredible season,” the MVHS coach said. “We call him the Flash because of his ability to execute what I call flash takedowns — he knows how much time is left in a match and can take you down in a matter of seconds when there is the need.”
The younger Olmos used his patented flash takedowns to get back in the match against Shlemoon but couldn’t overcome a pair of penalty points charged against him earlier in the bout, according to Mario Olmos.
“He has his flash takedowns, we need to work on his riding ability next,” Aaron’s father noted.
BV’s Garcia won his first match, then suffered a pin at the hands of RBV’s Joe Granger in the quarterfinals to drop to the single-elimination wrestle-backs. Garcia, however, proved he had staying power in the tournament by eliminating three other wrestlers from state berth contention. He pinned Vista’s Nicholas Andrade in 2:06 in his opening consolation match and then bested El Cajon Valley’s Gabriel Urreola, 6-4, in the consolation quarterfinals before pining Rancho Bernardo’s Chasen Blair in 4:09 in the consolation semifinals.
But the Baron matster drew a rematch with RBV’s Granger, and Granger won by a 47-second pin to claim the weight class’s final state qualifying berth.
Preciado, a Metro champion and third-place finisher at the preceding Division III finals, becomes the first Masters placer for the Eagles.
“It feels good,” said the Olympian wrestler, who sported a spiffy two-color hair-do for Masters. “I've got two more years to be the first state qualifier (from Olympian).”
The Mustangs finished Masters ninth in the team standings (wrestlers from 69 schools competed) with three medalists. San Ysidro, buoyed by two medalists, finished in 13th place, followed by Hilltop (20th), Mater Dei Catholic (25th), Mar Vista (26th), Olympian (34th), Bonita Vista (36th), Chula Vista (39th), Eastlake (45th), Montgomery (56th) and Castle Park (59th).
Division II champion Poway advanced 10 wrestlers to the Masters finals, and finished the event with seven weight class champions. Overall, the Titans qualified a section best 11 wrestlers to this weekend’s state tournament.
La Costa Canyon, which had three Masters finalists, two champions and six state qualifiers, placed second behind Poway in the team standings, followed by Rancho Bernardo (third), Division III champion Brawley (fourth), San Marcos (fifth), Carlsbad (sixth), Rancho Buena Vista (seventh), Division I champion Mira Mesa (eighth), Otay Ranch (ninth) and Division IV champion Holtville (10th).
San Diego Masters
(Top three advance to state meet)
106: Kai Kramer (La Costa Canyon) decisioned Kai Middlebrook (Poway) 4-0
113: Vicente Elizalde (Brawley) decisioned Scott Kiyono (Poway) 9-4
120: Taylor Dial (Poway) decisioned Jacob Schaeffer (Otay Ranch) 6-0
126: Emanuel Lair (Poway) decisioned Daxton Gordon (Brawley) 5-2
132: Miguel Flores (San Ysidro) decisioned Adrian Tovar (Poway) 4-3
138: Sergio Enloe (Poway) decisioned Sean O’Rourke (Mater Dei Catholic) 7-0
145: Ralph Tovar (Poway) pinned Alex McIntyre (La Costa Canyon) 4:43
152: Cody Doyle (Poway) decisioned Kenneth Moore (Hoover) 3-0
160: Alex Graves (San Marcos) defeated Colt Doyle (Poway), 3-2 (2OT)
170: Chris Bailey (Poway) major decisioned Isaiah Castillo (Central Union) 14-3
182: Waseem Elhamad (Mira Mesa) pinned Tyler Roman (University City) 2:11
195: Ian Baker (La Costa Canyon) defeated Thomas Hinch (Poway) by forfeit
220: Miracle Tausaga (Mt. Miguel) decisioned Matthew Garcia (San Marcos) 2-1
285: Chance Eskam (Carlsbad) pinned Lance Angulo (Holtville) 1:01
106: Marco Ramirez (Rancho Buena Vista) pinned Charlie Hanson (Rancho Bernardo) 3:24
113: Dustin Miller (Escondido) decisioned Kevin Teran (Calexico) 2-1
120: Kenneth Caldera (Imperial) pinned Davon Dutra-Smith (Westview) 3:05
126: Keagan Rank (Clairemont) decisioned Hunter Stock (Rancho Bernardo) 7-1
132: Alec Baker (La Costa Canyon) decisioned Jesse Ruelas (Brawley) 1-0
138: Jordan Santos (Westview) decisioned Troy Charles (La Costa Canyon) 6-4
145: Leon Shlemoon (El Cajon Valley) decisioned Aaron Olmos (Mar Vista) 6-5
152: Joseph Granger (Rancho Buena Vista) pinned Andy Garcia (Bonita Vista) 0:47
160: Phoenix Prefontaine (La Costa Canyon) decisioned Trevor Burningham (Valhalla) 12-5
170: Duke Mackle (La Costa Canyon) decisioned Joshua Lacosta (Mira Mesa) 3-1
182: Andrew Tausch (Poway) decisioned Cyrus Pirsa (Rancho Bernardo) 8-3
195: Raul Briseno (Ramona) decisioned Zach Arsenault (Carlsbad) 7-2
220: Rasheed Farha (Otay Ranch) decisioned Liam Sorahan (Poway) 3-1 (OT)
285: Omid Zeighami (Rancho Bernardo) pinned Derreck Cooper (San Pasqual) 4:14
106: Angelo Gonzalez (Escondido) decisioned Jacob Moreno (Brawley) 3-0
113: Jacob Cornell (Carlsbad) pinned Isaac Washington (Rancho Buena Vista) 4:56
120: Tseuneharu Ramirez (La Costa Canyon) defeated Isaac Moreno (Brawley) by forfeit
126: Dante Preciado (Olympian) defeated Vince Adair (Ramona) by forfeit
132: Josh Walters (Mar Vista) decisioned Noah Lester (Mira Mesa) 3-2
138: Roberto A La Torre (San Ysidro) defeated Carlos Perez (Vista) by forfeit
145: Xavier Plascencia (Hilltop) major decisioned Jessy Diaz (Holtville) 10-2
152: Troy Jordan (Ramona) pinned Chasen Blair (Rancho Bernardo) 2:52
160: Kory Reid (El Camino) pinned Adrian Hernandez (Otay Ranch) 3:20
170: Jacob Heene (Carlsbad) defeated Royce Muniz (Westview) by forfeit
182: James Murphy (Carlsbad) pinned Colin Forman (Steele Canyon) 3:30
195: Chase Eckman (Mt. Carmel) decisioned Corbin Grenowich (Rancho Bernardo) 8-1
220: Trae Rodriguez (Ramona) pinned Brandon Rosete (Monte Vista), time unavailable
285: Lorenzo Gomez (Valley Center) pinned Adam Le (Rancho Buena Vista) 3:23