For some, the dream began last summer inside a hot and sweaty wrestling room with no one else except for themselves and their coaches. For some, the dream started well before then, when they were still learning the fundamentals of their new sport.
It’s a dream many teenage wrestlers have but only a few achieve.
And that’s making the state tournament.
Four local wrestlers have accomplished this feat this season, along with a lifetime of bruises and scars to show. But they don’t mind the pain, now that they have stamped their way to this season’s CIF State Championships at Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield, with the first set of matches beginning Friday at 9 a.m.
Finals are scheduled for 7:15 p.m. Saturday.
For Turlock High’s Fabian Garcia and Pitman High’s Tyler Klinkhammer, Andrew Perez and Emilio Saavedra, their dream of being a state tournament wrestler is a reality, with some of them being first-time participants and others returning for a shot at the state’s biggest prize.
Fabian Garcia, Turlock High senior: Garcia has the most state tournament experience, as he’s making the Bakersfield trip for a fourth time in his active high school career. As a freshman, he was an alternate but managed to pull off a stunning seventh-place finish, ticking off the first of three state medals. But he still hasn’t won it all. He came close as a sophomore, taking fourth.
So far this season, he has proven that he can compete at the highest level. Besides reaching the finals of every tournament he’s participated in and capturing an individual title at the Reno Tournament of Champions, Garcia had an epic battle at the Doc Buchanan Invitational with two-time state champion Alex Cisneros of Selma High. In that match, Garcia lost in overtime.
Garcia, who owns a 42-2 record with 28 pins, is ranked second in the state at 125 pounds, behind Cisneros and Clovis North High’s Vince Rodriguez, whom Garcia has beaten this season.
“I feel like our biggest challenges are Clovis North and Selma, and we got an opportunity to wrestle both of them this year,” Turlock coach Mike Contreras said. “We’ll take a look at the video and work on some things that we think we might be able to use by watching that video. We’ve already watched it, but we’ll probably watch it again to go over some of those things.”
Emilio Saavedra, Pitman High freshman: Saavedra is the state’s top wrestler at 103 pounds, but the ranking wasn’t given to him. He had to earn it, and he has fought his way through many close battles.
“Some people feel pressure from it, some people kind of get cocky from it, but every day he comes in and he’s trying to get better,” Pitman coach Adam Vasconcellos said about his freshman sensation. “There’s been close matches. He’s won by one point. He’s won by two points over several different kids. He’s won by a takedown in the third period, so he knows that on any day, someone’s right there.”
But lately, Saavedra looks unstoppable. He pinned all his opponents last weekend to become his school’s first Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Tournament champion. Heading into his first state tournament, he boasts a record of 45-1 with 35 pins. His one loss came during a Central California Conference dual meet match to a wrestler in a higher weight class.
“I try to take the good out of every situation and weed out all the bad stuff,” Saavedra said. “I really try not to worry about all that pressure.”
Andrew Perez, Pitman High senior: Perez understands the circumstances. He’s a senior who’s heading into his final high school tournament. If that wasn’t enough motivation, he’s trying to erase what happened at the Masters tournament. He finished sixth at 130 pounds, a disappointing showing for someone who had a runner-up finish in the same tournament last season before finishing eighth at the state meet.
Perez, who is 40-8 with 18 pins, has locked up a number of tournament wins, including the Western Invitational, the Bulldog Classic, the Central California Conference Championships and the Section’s Division I South Championships, but he says that he’s not finish. He wants to prove he can compete with the state’s best.
After the Masters tournament, Perez said this: “It sucks to lose. It gets pretty bad when I lose. I just had it in my head that I needed to finish strong. I don’t know what to say. Embarrassing, but I have to flush this out and be ready for next week because that’s what matters to me. No matter what draw I get, I’m going out swinging. It’s my last tournament. I’m definitely not going to have this performance again.”
Tyler Klinkhammer, Pitman High senior: It’s safe to say that Klinkhammer has the most to prove in being one of three Pitman state wrestlers, which is the most in school history. But that’s not to say that he hasn’t proven his talent and determination this season.
He only started wrestling as a freshman. And now, he’ll compete at the state’s biggest wrestling event, which is also considered one of the toughest in the nation because it’s not separated by divisions like in other states. Klinkhammer, who is 30-12 with 12 pins, has built an impressive resume this season, with a title at Pitman’s own Rumble in the Jungle and a second-place showing at the CCC Tournament. He then went on to place fourth at the D-I South tournament before landing a fifth-place finish at last weekend’s Masters.
Klinkhammer began to think about the state tournament during summer workouts inside a hot and sweaty wrestling room — and he never gave up on that dream.
“He’s one of those kids who have done everything,” said Vasconcellos, the Pitman coach. “He’s done every summer match, every summer practice, everything that we ask him to do. It’s good to see kids who put in tons and tons of hours get rewarded.”
To contact Chhun Sun, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 634-9141 ext. 2041.