Both Turlock and Pitman High wrestling programs entered the Central California Athletic League with a bang last season, finishing in the top two spots and boasting State champions.
With a new year comes new challenges, however, but both teams are determined to pick up right where they left off last year.
For Pitman, they return State champion Lilly Freitas (143) and a plethora of Master’s qualifiers.
“We have been fortunate that every year we have someone make the state tournament and medal, so we have had a streak with five years in a row or something like that," Pitman head coach Adam Vasconcellos said. "The kids see the kids working next to them and they see them achieving their goals and going to college, and the feeling our kids have is that the next level is possible.”
Turlock graduated most of last season’s roster after they advanced 10 to Master’s and four to State.
Only William Giron (126), Adrian Heras (132), Gus Bonilla (114) and Raza Sajjadi (160) return on the boys side, while Hailey Ward (101) looks to medal for her fourth straight season on the girls side.
Giron and Heras are back after both reached the CIF state tournament, but were one match away from earning a medal.
“We are pretty young, besides our four seniors, most of the team is freshmen and sophomores,” said THS head coach Mike Contreras. “Sort of a transition because we graduated everyone from 70s up, tough blow to take. Young guys are taking over and we should have them for multiple years and getting that varsity experience now which is good.”
Contreras is also expecting a big season from junior Egberto Davalos (120), who was injured last season and unable to qualify for Master’s.
Before embarking on that journey, both Turlock and Pitman need to go through their pre-league schedule, and then league, where both dominated just a year ago.
The Pride won last season’s inaugural CCAL title after an undefeated season that saw them go 5-0, topping the Turlock Bulldogs in the regular season dual finale.
“I see it as pretty similar this year. I haven’t seen too much of the other teams in league, but I see the top two teams being the same, but I know Pitman has a lot of guys returning and they will be tough to beat,” said Contreras. “On a good day we could qualify five to six to state, but we will see and just keep working and stay healthy and do well in school.”
Last season, as a freshman, Freitas took the tournament and year by storm, making history for her school after doing something that no other prior wrestler from Pitman had done.
Freitas went a perfect 33-0 for the year and captured the 143-pound State title after winning via fall in 54 seconds. Freitas is back and so are most of the Pride wrestlers from last season, which includes Izzy Tubera (120) who placed third last season at State.
This year expectations are certainly high, but Vasconcellos knows that they need to keep it steady and make sure they peak at the end.
Pitman is currently ranked No. 11 in the state as a team and they have five top-15 ranked wrestlers at the moment.
“One of the better pre-league rankings for sure and we have a herd of Master’s qualifiers coming back…and we have a great group of freshmen that just came in,” said Vasconcellos. “I know when I took over we didn’t have anyone go to State and now we have guys consistently go to State and earning a medal. They see and know it is possible when they look at the alums, we have wrestlers like Isaiah Perez going to Fresno State and see what those kids are doing and so our kids are expecting to win.”
So far, the mentality for the season is to be hungry, healthy and ready to compete.
In addition, Vasconcellos would love to see his team rank in the top 10, something they have yet to achieve in the program’s history.
“In the entire state we are No. 11, and if we can continue like we have, I know we can make it and our kids are capable of making it the top 10. Our kids are good enough to do it and we are working towards all that every day,” said Vasconcellos. “… We have been super consistent in the top 20 and wrestling is a different beast, these other sports have different divisions and champions there, not in wrestling, just one, the entire state of California comes together.”
Aside from Freitas and Tubera, the Pride are expecting a standout year from Kendall La Rosa (170), Jon Stout (145), Juan Mora (220), Isaiah Ontiveros (152), Conner La Rosa (128) and Sammy Silveira (140). Silveira and Kendall reached State last season.
On the girls side, Lilly Avalos (111) and Alana Ontiveros (150) are currently 13-0 for the year and expectations are high.
“We have quite a bit of seniors this year, so we are trying to get our seniors to help our younger kids that way we are able to just keep reloading,” Vasconcellos added. “But right now, it is about keeping our kids healthy and fresh, but we don’t want to peak too soon either. Main thing is come February our kids are hungrier than anybody else. Our two girls aside from freshmen are in it to win it this year.”
Pitman and Turlock’s next match is the Doc Buchanan Tournament from Clovis High at 9 a.m. Jan. 3.