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South County mat men impress with two champions, seven finalists at 43rd ECI tournament Phillip Brents | Fri, Dec 27 2013 01:17 PM

When Mater Dei Catholic High School senior Sean O’Rourke speaks of his wrestling exploits, it’s in the plural sense. It’s “we” and not “I.”

“He feels he’s not wrestling alone,” MDCHS head coach Scott Ullsperger explained.

In O’Rourke’s mind, he isn’t.

“A lot of wrestling coaches live through their wrestlers and I take that in the literal sense,” the Crusader mat man explained. “I take all what I’ve learned from them to the mat, so I feel I’m really wrestling not only for myself but my coaches. They’ve prepared me the best they can and I want to wrestle my best for them.”

O’Rourke hasn’t let anyone down so far this season — not himself or the MDCHS coaching staff.
The Crusader senior improved to 16-1 on the season after capturing his 138-pound weight class at the 43rd annual El Cajon Invitational that wrapped up last Saturday at Christian High School. The ECI is considered one of the San Diego Section’s major regional-draw tournaments.

O’Rourke pinned Chula Vista’s Hector Rodriguez in 3:47 to cap a 4-0 run through the two-day, 37-team event. The MDCHS grappler finished his four matches with three pins and a 16-0 technical fall.

The tournament title was the third in four tournament outings this season for O’Rourke, who opened the 2013-14 mat campaign by winning his weight class at the Mar Vista Battle by the Beach and Mira Mesa Marauder tournaments before recording a runner-up finish in the 45-team La Costa Canyon Jimmy Hamada Classic.

O’Rourke had a 6-3 lead on Selma’s Ruben Garcia, the state’s 17th-ranked grappler, before finishing on the losing end of a 7-6 championship-round decision.

“We took a loss after we had a lead in the finals of the LCC tournament, but we learned some important things from that and here we are again in the finals,” O’Rourke said with a gleam in his eye.

Ullsperger’s assistant coaches this season include Brett Sanchez, Mick Ruis and John Sardella. The addition of Sanchez and Ruis has provided extra benefits for O’Rourke in particular. Sanchez is a two-time state place-winner (seventh in 2007 and fifth in 2008) while competing at Clovis High School; Ruis ranked among the top wrestlers in the San Diego Section before electing to pursue a career as a jockey.

“They beat me up in the wrestling room,” O’Rourke said with a smile. “It’s fun.”

The Crusader standout entered the ECI tournament ranked 25th in the state; he will put himself under full scrutiny of the state’s top coaches, wrestlers — and rankings-makers — at the upcoming Doc Buchanan tournament, scheduled Jan. 3-4 at Clovis High School.

The 2014 Doc Buchanan Invitational ranks as perhaps the premier individual tournament in the western United States and one of the top tournaments nationwide. Last year’s event, for example, included 11 California state champions, 20 California state finalists and 72 California state medalists.

“That will be a big one for Sean,” Ullsperger said.

O’Rourke called winning the prestigious ECI tournament “a confidence builder and a mental-builder” as he pushes into the heart of the season.

Ullsperger feels his wrestler has put all the negativity that befell him at the end of last season behind him.

“Sean is one of the hardest-workers and most mentally-focused wrestlers I have coached,” the MDCHS coach explained. “He is a true student of the sport and always wants to keep improving. I firmly believe he has the potential to make it to the state meet.”

Should O’Rourke advance to the state championship meet, he would be the first Crusader wrestler to do so since 1978.

Mat stars

It was an impressive showing by Metro Conference wrestlers at this year’s ECI tournament. O’Rourke and Rodriguez were two of seven South County grapplers to reach the championship round and comprised one of two all-Metro finals match-ups.

At 220 pounds, Otay Ranch’s Rasheed Farha recorded a 22-7 technical fall against Montgomery’s Miguel Ballesteros.

In other championship round match-ups, San Ysidro’s Miguel Flores (132) and Roberto A La Torre (145) and Eastlake’s Jamar Adams (285) all recorded runner-up place-finishes in their respective weight classes.

Farha finished with a gold medal at the Long Beach Millikan tournament to open this season after capturing last season’s Division I title at 195 pounds. He improved to 11-1 this season after pinning his way to the ECI semifinals.

The Mustang wrestler, seeded third in the weight class, opened the tournament with a 21-second fall and compiled additional pins of 3:02 and 4:48 before scoring a 17-7 major decision against RBV’s Shane McNary after McNary had pinned the weight class bracket’s No. 2 seed, Northview’s Jared Brito, in the preceding round.

Ballesteros (14-3) was seeded fifth in the weight class and also pinned his way to the semifinals where he defeated top-seeded Adam Waller by default. The Aztec mat warrior finished 3-1, including pins of 1:55 and 36 seconds.

Ballesteros, a two-time Masters qualifier, had previously placed third at the season opening Mar Vista tournament and second at the ensuing Mission Hills tournament.

San Ysidro’s Flores was coming off a championship performance at the LCC tournament after defeating the Nevada state champion and took an unblemished 16-0 record into his 132-pound final at the ECI against Northview senior John Rivera. But Rivera (10-2) held the upper hand throughout the match, winning a 3-1 decision to hand the Cougar wrestler his first loss of the season.

Flores, the top-seeded wrestler in the weight class, had advanced to the final on the strength of three consecutive pins.

A La Torre, seeded second in his weight, also dropped a two-point decision to a Northview wrestler in the championship round as senior Mark Cruz (5-0) scored a 5-3 win. A La Torre (13-4) finished the tournament 4-1 with three pins and a tech fall to his credit.

Eastlake’s Adams (10-5) finished 3-1 at last weekend’s ECI. He went the distance in all four matches, winning his first three by decisions of 8-3, 5-3 and 5-4 before finishing on the short end of a 4-2 finals decision against Ramona’s Trae Rodriguez.

Adams, seeded fourth, upset top-seeded Mikey Serrato from Point Loma in the semifinals. Adams had previously finished fourth in the heavyweight class at the Carlsbad tournament two weekends earlier.

In finishing second to MDC’s O’Rourke, CV’s Rodriguez (20-4) won his opening four matches at this year’s ECI, including two by pin and another by a 10-1 major decision. He opened the season with a third-place performance at the Mar Vista Battle by the Beach and a seventh-place showing at the elite LCC tourney.

By the numbers

The Metro Conference’s seven finalists outnumbered the Grossmont Conference’s four finalists. That South County grapplers faced off in two championship matches underscored the impressive showing at this year’s ECI by Metro wrestlers.

San Ysidro, braced by five medalists and two finalists, finished in fourth place in the team standings while South Bay League rival Chula Vista, which returned home with seven medal-winners, finished in fifth place.

Joining Flores and A La Torre on the awards stand were teammates Jose Reyes (fourth, 126), Alejandro Cazares (sixth, 195) and Jorbel Alvarez (eighth, 113).

Flores is ranked first in the section in his weight class while A la Torre is ranked fourth. “I think Miguel’s the No. 1 guy in the county and it’s not just me saying that — that’s coming from others as well,” SYHS coach Mario Ramirez said in regard to Flores. “He’s wrestling at another level.”

Chula Vista coach Daryl Butterfield noted it was the Spartans’ highest team finish ever in the history of the ECI tournament. “Hopefully there’s more to come,” said Butterfield, whose team faced off league dual competition with a 60-15 victory against Mar Vista. “We want to continue practicing hard and execute what we practice.”

CV medalists, besides Rodriguez, included Chris Alonso (third, 145), Jaylon Candler (fourth, 195), Joey Bamba (sixth, 170), Hachem Nasser (sixth, 170), Alexis Chavez (seventh, 285) and Pablo Lopez (eighth, 126).

Alonso (15-5) advanced to the semifinals, dropping a 6-3 decision to the eventual 145 champion; Bamba also made it as far as the semis.

Olympian, buoyed by five medalists, finished 10th in the team standings. The Eagles’ place-winners included Bryan Sanchez (third, 106), Dante Preciado (third, 132), Bradley Roberto (sixth, 152), Gavin Untalan (eighth, 138) and Ronald Magsino (eighth, 160).

Sanchez dropped a 7-5 semifinal match-up to the eventual 106 champion while Preciado dropped an 8-5 semifinal match-up to the eventual 132 champion.

Otay Ranch, braced by two medalists, finished 12th. Semifinalist Adrian Hernandez joined Farha on the awards platform after securing a fourth-place medal at 160 pounds.

“I think we’re going to be OK,” said Mustangs coach Gabe Ruz, whose team opened the season with a fourth-place finish at the Millikan duals. “We just haven’t had a chance to have a full team so far this year because of sickness or other issues. If we put a full team together, I think we’d do well. We have some good prospects.”

Hilltop, supported by three place-winners, finished 18th in the ECI team standings. Lancer medalists included Drake Madarang (fifth, 152), Seamus Beyerle (seventh, 160) and David Velazquez (seventh, 195).

Madarang, who scored the game-winning touchdown against host Mar Vista to hand Hilltop this year’s Metro-South Bay League championship title, finished 5-2 in his season debut with three pins.

“I want to make it to state,” Madarang said. “I want to place in every tournament and keep getting better this year until the end of the season for CIF and Masters. I’m still rusty.”

Eastlake (21st) had two medalists. Ronnie Sallee (11-5) finished fifth at 195 pounds to join Adams in the medal parade. Sallee, riding a pair of pins, advanced to the semis.

A total of eight Metro teams attended this year’s ECI tournament. Montgomery finished 26th in the team standings while Mater Dei Catholic finished 28th.

Northview, with 12 medalists and six champions, won the team title; Temescal Canyon was second. RBV, the highest-placing San Diego Section team, was third — 18 points ahead of San Ysidro.

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