The San Diego Section Masters state-qualifying wrestling tournament has been described as a “meat-grinder” by various coaches over the years. With good reason: only the top three place-finishers in each of the 14 weight classes punch tickets to the state championship tournament.
That talent pool includes qualifiers from the previous week’s four divisional tournaments. Look at it this way: there are 56 divisional weight class champions from the four division tournaments and only 14 Masters weight class champions; there are 336 qualifiers from the divisional tournament and just 42 state qualifiers. There are 24 divisional qualifiers in each weight class but there can only be one Masters champion.
Masters is thus a big challenge for anyone, even the most experienced high school wrestlers.
Three Metro Conference mat men, however, managed to hurdle that difficult barrier in competition Feb. 26-27 at Christian High School in El Cajon to qualify to compete in this year’s state tournament in Bakersfield.
•Castle Park senior Dante Preciado, 140-pound champion
•Hilltop senior Alberto Garcia, second place, 128 pounds
•San Ysidro junior Pablo Perez, third place, 162 pounds
Preciado did not make the finals at this year’s Division III tournament but was seeded second at Masters. He opened the tournament with pin times of 1:42 and 3:14 before recording a 3-2 win in the semifinals against Poway’s Joshua Tolentino, the Division II champion. Preciado met top-seeded Alec Baker of La Costa Canyon, the Division III champion, in the championship match, winning by a score of 3-1.
Garcia finished second at the Division II finals and entered Masters as the No. 3-seeded wrestler in his weight class. Garcia received a bye in the first round, then defeated Andres Lopez of Monte Vista by a 9-2 decision in the second round.
Garcia defeated Mira Mesa’s Devinaire Hayes by a 6-3 decision in the quarterfinals and then defeated Imperial’s Nick Hart by a 13-2 major decision in the semifinals. Hart had upset Calexico’s Robert Tabarez, the second-seeded wrestler in the weight class, in the previous round.
Garcia met Poway’s Brandon Kier, the Division II champion, in the championship round. Kier stamped his name on the weight class by pinning Garcia in 3:55.
Still, Garcia’s run to the championship match was impressive.
“Alberto has accomplished a remarkable achievement by qualifying to the CIF California state wrestling championship with him only wrestling four years,” explained Hilltop head coach Thomas Juarez. “There are thousands of high school wrestlers in California who have been wrestling since they were children and they have never participated in the tournament. Alberto’s greatest asset is his willingness to make improvements and his never quit attitude.”
Kier had defeated Garcia by forfeit at the Division II finals.
Perez, meanwhile, continued his impressive post-season run by capturing the Division II championship. Seeded third at Masters, Perez pinned his first two opponents in 1:17 and 5:54 to advance to the semifinals, at which point he dropped a narrow 9-7 decision to Poway’s Hampton Boyd.
Interestingly, Perez had defeated Boyd by a 7-5 decision at the Division II finals the previous week.
Perez continued competition in the consolation bracket. He pinned West Hills’ Nick Rivinius, the Division III champion, in 3:25 in the consolation semifinals to qualify for the pivotal third-place match.
The third-place matches at Masters are even more nerve-racking than the finals, where both wrestlers are already assured of state berths after winning semifnal matches. Only the winner of the third-place match is assured of a state berth, and the least mistake can prove costly.
Perez pinned Rancho Bernardo’s Godfrey Lozada in 1:22 to secure the bronze medal — and a coveted trip to the state meet.
The top six place-finishers at Masters earned medals.
Metro Conference medalists also included Eastlake’s Ben Martinez (fifth, 115), Hilltop’s Giany Barbosa (sixth, 140), Otay Ranch’s Sithara Diunugala (sixth, 154), Otay Ranch’s Jonathan Wu (sixth, 172), Otay Ranch’s Mustafa (sixth, 222) and Eastlake’s Jake Suggett (fifth, 287).
Eastlake was the top team finisher among South County schools in 13th place with 50.5 points, followed by Otay Ranch in 14th place with 50 points and San Ysidro in 15th place with 42 points.
Hilltop finished 25th with 33 points while Castle Park was 29th with 28 points.
Eastlake head coach Troy Vierra was disappointed by his team’s showing in that he felt his team peaked earlier than it should have for post-season competition.
“I think Jake Suggett had the best chance to go to the state tournament, but I don’t think he wrestled his best at the Masters,” Vierra said. “He made mistakes that cost him. You’ve got to peak at the end of February.
“I told the team afterward that I thought they were happy winning the league tournament and that they were content doing that. But we need to keep our focus going toward the state tournament.”
Poway captured first place in the team standings at Masters with 318.5 points, followed by Division II runner-up Rancho Bernardo (second, 192.5 points), Division I champion San Marcos (third, 164.5 points), Division III runner-up La Costa Canyon (fourth, 148 points), Division I runner-up RBV (fifth, 130 points), Division III champion Brawley (sixth, 111 points) and Helix (seventh, 86.5 points).
Mt. Miguel finished ninth in the Masters field with 60.5 points to tie Ramona.
Trence Gillem and D’Rell Gist, both representing Helix High School, along with Mount Miguel’s Juan Ruiz, comprised this year’s select group of state qualifiers from the Grossmont Conference.
Gillem qualified for the prestigious honor after winning his 134-pound weight class. Gist placed second in his 172-pound weight class while Ruiz placed third at 154 pounds.
Division team champions included San Marcos (Division I), Poway (Division II), Brawley (Division III) and Valley Center (Division IV).
Hilltop’s Jasmine Plasencia finished 2-2 at the girls state championship tournament Feb. 26-27 in Visalia. Juarez noted that Plasencia, in his words, “had a great sophomore season.”
“She won the SD-CIF section championship at 103 pounds and was voted the most outstanding lightweight wrestler in the tournament,” the Hilltop coach said. “Our goal as a coaching staff is to get Jasmine on the state championship podium stand for the next two years. Jasmine can do it.”
Five San Diego Section wrestlers earned place-finishes at the girls state tournament. They included Clairemont’s Stephanie Maldonado (fourth, 235), RBV’s Iesha Washington (fifth, 116), RBV’s Sadie Tackett (sixth, 143), San Pasqual’s Maria Valdez (sixth, 150) and Lincoln’s Phonisha Priatt (eighth, 131).
Plasencia was among five Metro Conference state qualifiers. She was joined at the state meet by Eastlake’s Jasmine Stewart (118), Isabela Hook (132) and Loraine Tejano (152) as well as San Ysidro’s Isabel Flores (113).
Plasencia, Flores, Hook and Tejano all won championship titles at the San Diego Section championship tournament while Stewart place second. The top two place-winners in each weight class at the section finals qualified to compete at the state tournament.
State Finals Report:
Helix’s Gillem proves golden at state wrestling championships
Helix High School senior Trence Gillem entered last weekend’s 44th annual California state boys wrestling championship tournament ranked fourth in his 132-pound weight class. But the newly-crowned San Diego Section Masters champion held true to the goal he had set at the beginning of season: He was determined to win the state title.
And, Gillem did just that after recording a 3-2 decision over Buchanan senior Durbin Lloren, the defending state champion, in last Saturday finals at Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield.
Gillem (37-2) becomes the first wrestler from Helix to win an individual state wrestling championship.
And, he was perfect on the mat in doing so. The Highlander wrestler finished 5-0 at the state championship tournament.
“Definitely a weekend to remember,” Gillem posted on his Twitter account.
Gillem, one of two state qualifiers from Helix, was among 10 medalists from the San Diego Section and the section’s lone weight class champion.
Gillem opened the tournament last Friday with wins against Dos Pueblos junior Armando Pimentel, the Central Section seventh-place finisher, by a 5:34 pin in the first round; Yucapia junior Alejandro Raya, the Southern Section third-place finisher, by a 7-6 decision in the second round; and Vacaville sophomore Lawrence Saenz, the Sac-Joaquin Section champion, by default in the quarterfinals.
Gillem defeated Folsom senior Curtis Booth by an 8-3 decision in the semifinals to earn his date with destiny in the finals against his opponent from state champion Buchanan.
Helix senior 170-pounder D’Rell Gist, a fellow San Diego Section Division I champion, joined Gillem at the state meet after recording a runner-up finish at the San Diego Masters state-qualifying tournament. However, Gist lost his first two matches at the state meet to bow out of medal contention.
Gist dropped a 5-4 decision to Sunnyside senior Erick Moreno, the Central Section sixth-place finisher, in the opening round. Gist then dropped a 5-2 decision to Chaparral senior Garrett Strang, the Southern Section ninth-place finisher, in the opening round of consolation matches.
Gist finished the season 35-13.
Overall, the San Diego Section produced three championship-round qualifiers this year. San Marcos senior Jett Moy finished runner-up in his 152-pound weight class while Poway senior Chris Bailey finished runner-up in his 195-pound weight division.
Additionally, Poway sophomore Chase Zollman finished third in his 113-pound weight class while Rancho Bernardo junior Chasen Blair placed fourth in his 182-pound division.
Army-Navy Academy senior Zachary Schrader finished sixth at 220 pounds while La Costa Canyon senior Alec Baker placed sixth at 138 pounds.
Poway junior Scott Kyono (132 pounds) and Poway junior Luis Enloe (145 pounds) both earned seventh-place medals in their respective weight classes while Poway junior Hampton Boyd finished eighth at 160 pounds.
The top eight place-finishers received medals. Poway led the section with five medalists.
Buchanan tied an all-time state record with 10 place-winners. The Bears totaled 274.5 points to win their second state championship and first since 2006.
Clovis finished second with 232.5 points, followed by Poway in third place with 113 points.
Helix, buoyed by Gillem’s gold medal showing, finished as the second highest-scoring team from the San Diego Section with 30 points to place the Highlanders in 30th place.
San Diego Section Division I champion San Marcos finished with 23 points in 39th place while section Division III runner-up La Costa Canyon finished with 20 points in a tied for 44th place.
A total of 276 teams competed at last weekend’s two-day event.
Gilroy, which finished fourth in the team standings, was the only other team to score more than 100 points in the tournament.
Among the section’s other two finalists, San Marcos’s Moy lost by a 38-second pin administered by San Marino senior Evan Wick, the Southern Section champion, while Poway’s Bailey dropped a 6-1 decision to Clovis senior A.J. Nevills, the Central Section champion.
Moy, the San Diego Masters champion, was unranked entering the tournament but upset Riverside Martin Luther King junior Luke Troy, ranked fifth in the nation in the second round. He is the first San Marcos wrestler to reach the state finals since 1984.
Clovis junior Justin Mejia became the 22nd wrestler in history to win three state titles while Clovis sophomore Seth Nevills captured his second state crown.
The San Diego Section qualified 42 wrestlers to compete at last weekend’s state tournament.
Somewhat surprisingly, wrestlers from Division III champion Brawley and Division I runner-up Rancho Buena Vista were absent from the state awards stand.
Poway sophomore Jacob Allen (106), La Costa Canyon Kai Kramer (120), Poway senior Brandon Kier (126) and Rancho Bernardo junior Erik Salcido (145) all finished in the top 12 of their weight classes.
Ramona freshman sensation Jeremy Ramsthaler, who bolted out to a 31-0 start this season, finished 2-2 at the state meet in his 106-pound weight class.
Forty wrestlers competed in each weight class.
Of the 14 San Diego Masters champions, six earned state medals: Zollman, Gillem, Enloe, Moy, Blair and Bailey.
Metro Conference notepad
The Metro Conference’s three state qualifiers – Hilltop senior Alberto Garcia, Castle Park senior Dante Preciado and San Ysidro junior Pablo Perez – all won at least one match in Bakersfield but failed to medal.
Preciado, this year’s Masters champion at 138 pounds, advanced the farthest of the three local grapplers by competing in five matches. His 3-2 record was good for a top 12 finish.
Preciado opened the tournament in strong fashion by scoring a 17-1 technical fall against Silver Creek sophomore Simon Lopez, the Central Coast Section third-place finisher.
However, Granite Bay junior Jack Ramalia, the Sac-Joaquin champion, promptly handed the Trojan wrestler a 5-4 loss that dropped Preciado to the single-elimination consolation wrestle-backs.
Preciado went 2-1 in the wrestle-backs. He eliminated Brawley senior Victor Gonzalez, the San Diego third-place finisher, by a 3-0 decision. Preciado then eliminated Arroyo Grande senior Isaiah Rocha, the Southern Section fifth-place finisher, by a 7-1 decision.
Preciado then met Clovis West senior Bobby Miguel, the Central Section fourth-place finisher, with Miguel winning by a 3:40 pin to eliminate the Castle Park wrestler.
Both Garcia (126 pounds) and Perez (160 pounds) placed among the top 24 wrestlers in their weight classes.
Garcia, the second-place finisher at San Diego Masters, pinned Madera junior Abraham Del Toro, the Central Section sixth-place finisher, in 1:46 in his first match at the state meet, but then lost his next two matches.
San Marino junior Zander Silva, the Southern Section champion, recorded an 8-0 major decision over Garcia in the second round. Garcia then dropped to the consolation wrestle-backs and ended his season there following a 5-0 loss to Dos Palos senior Adrian Marrufo, the Central Section fourth-place finisher.
Perez, a Metro Conference and Division II weight class champion, continued his strong post-season push by winning his first two matches at the state meet. He defeated Porterville sophomore Joey Sandoval, the Central Section ninth-place finisher by a 3:27 pin. Perez, the San Diego Section third-place finisher, then pinned Escalon senior Cameron Dubois, the Sac-Joaquin Section third-place finisher, in 54 seconds to make a statement.
But Perez lost his next two matches to suffer elimination. Buchanan senior Abner Romero, the Central Section champion, defeated Perez 14-6 to relegate Perez to the consolation wrestle-backs. Exeter senior Dawson Boland, the Central Section sixth-palce finisher, then handed Perez a 3-1 setback to crush the Cougar mat man’s dreams of advancing further.
Forty wrestlers competed in each weight class.