While it may have been a down year medal-wise for the San Diego Section as a whole at last weekend’s state wrestling championships in Bakersfield, it was a breakthrough moment for Otay Ranch High School’s program, which claimed its first two state medalists. Senior Eddie Estevez finished third in his 114-pound weight class while sophomore Tommy Espinoza placed seventh at 105 pounds.
Head coach Troy Vierra found it difficult to put all the emotions into words.
“This is the first time we’ve ever had anyone do this, and it was two guys, not just one,” Vierra said. “The section as a whole had just six medalists and we had two of them. It was just an amazing weekend of wrestling.”
Espinoza entered the state tournament, held March 4-5 at Rabobank Arena, as the San Diego Masters champion in his weight class while Estevez, a returning state meet qualifier, finished third in his weight division at Masters (held Feb. 25-26 at Canyon Crest Academy).
The top eight place-finishers in each of the 14 weight classes earned coveted state medals.
Estevez won his opening three matches in the first day of competition to secure a berth in the semifinals and therefore guarantee himself of no worse than a sixth-place finish. Espinoza won his first two matches to advance to the quarterfinals, but ended the opening day with a loss, sending him to the consolation wrestle-backs.
The Mustang 105-pounder came back to win the all-crucial first match of the second day to advance to the medal rounds.
“Once they both assured themselves of state medals, they were excited and just had a lot of fun out there,” Vierra said. “I think there was more pressure on Eddie at Masters. It was a dominating performance by both of them, but particularly by Eddie. He had been there before (as a sophomore) and knew just how big the state meet was. He was in control of everything, where to warm up, where to check in and what to expect on the mat from the other competitors.”
Vierra said both Otay Ranch mat men took an aggressive stance on the mat.
“Both got the first takedown and, after getting that first takedown, they seemed to get more confidence out there,” the Mustang coach said.
Estevez (42-5 overall) finished the two-day tournament 5-1, with the lone loss to Chico senior Nashon Garrett, the eventual state champion.
Espinoza went 4-2 at the state meet to improve to 37-7. His losses came against Pitman freshman Emilio Saavedra (the eventual third-place finisher) and Atascaderso senior Michael Clemmensen (the eventual sixth-place finisher).
Estevez opened the mat fest with a 9-2 first-round decision over La Quinta junior George Torres, the second-place finisher from the Southern Section, and a 5-2 second-round decision over Santa Ana junior Johnny Sanchez, the ninth-place finisher from the Southern Section.
Estevez then ran into Oakdale junior Garrett Fortado, the Sac-Joaquin champion, in the quarterfinals where the Mustang grappler recorded a victory by technical fall.
The latter win placed Estevez against Garrett, the Northern Section champion, in the semifinals. Garrett won 14-1 to advance to the championship round.
Estevez needed to win two more matches to place third. He edged Clovis sophomore Jonas Gaytan, the Central Section second-place finisher, by a 4-3 decision in the consolation semifinals and then topped Exeter sophomore Arnulfo Olea, the Central Section’s seventh-place finisher, by a 6-3 decision in the bronze medal match.
When Estevez won the third-place match, Vierra said it was time for Estevez to finally celebrate. “Eddie is kind of a quiet guy but you could see it in his face,” the ORHS coach said. “He gave me a big hug. He out-worked everyone at the tournament.”
Espinoza matched up with a pair of fellow sophomores in his first two matches. He decisioned Shasta’s Matt Smull, the Northern Section’s second-place finisher, 6-4, in the first round and then bested San Fernando’s Sergio Mendez, the L.A. Section champion, 5-2, in the second round.
But Saavedra blocked Espinoza’s path in the quarterfinals with a 1:48 fall, sending Espinoza to the wrestle-backs .
Espinoza drew Clovis East junior Chris Tamez, the fourth-place finisher from the Central Section, in his first match to kick-start the second day of competition, winning 3-2.
The victory over Tamez meant Espinoza could finish no worse than eighth and, with another win, could finish no worse than sixth.
But the Otay Ranch wrestler lost a 15-0 decision to Clemmensen, the third-place finisher from the Southern Section, to drop to the seventh-place match.
Espinoza captured a tight 4-3 decision from Vacaville freshman Gionn Peralta, the Sac-Joaquin Section’s second-place finisher, to close out the tournament on a successful note.
“As a sophomore, he dominated,” Vierra said in regard to Espinoza’s fluid performance. “He got the first takedown in all his matches except in the last match and he came back and won that one.”
The two medalists boosted the Mustangs to a meteoric 38th-place finish in the team standings with 28.5 points — the second-best showing by a San Diego team after megapower Poway (15th overall, 44 points).
“We could see that the section was not doing well,” Vierra.
Poway, with eight state qualifiers, produced just one medalist: senior Porfi Sosa (fifth at 217 pounds).
Ramona, with five state qualifiers, finished 44th in the team standings with 24 points, followed by Rancho Bernardo (53rd, 20 points), Brawley (59th, 17.5 points) and Vista (60th, 17 points). Ramona finished second to Poway at the Masters while Brawley and Vista tied for third place.
Besides Estevez, Espinoza and Sosa, the section’s other state medal-winners included Mira Mesa senior Gabi Musallam (second, heavyweight), Rancho Buena Vista senior Jesus Ambriz (fifth, 1981 pounds) and Imperial senior Tony Ramos (eighth, 127 pounds)
Clovis, with nine state placers, won the team title with 186 points, followed by runner-up Bakersfield (eight state placers) with 177 points and third place Selma (three state finalists) with 100 points.
Mater Dei’s Gamez earns fifth-place medal at girls state
Mater Dei Catholic senior Briana Gamez finished fifth in her 98-pound weight class at this year’s inaugural CIF girls wrestling state championships, held Feb. 25-26 in Lemoore. She was among four San Diego County wrestlers to earn a medal and among 13 San Diegans who qualified from a regional tournament to compete at the state tournament.
Other San Diego state medalists included Imperial’s Junette Caldera (fifth, 103 pounds), Oceanside’s Kalin Knight-Alvarez (fifth, 114 pounds) and Steele Canyon’s Indya Stevens (sixth, 189 pounds).
Gamez qualified for the state tournament by placing fourth at the regional tournament held Feb. 12 in Beaumont.
A total of 439 girls competed at regionals and 336 girls at the state meet.