For most high school wrestlers from the Turlock area, the goal every season is to take that drive down Highway 99 toward Bakersfield. It’s there that all the state’s best congregate for the CIF Championships in early March.
For some, the dream of being a state wrestler is very realistic. For others, it’s a hard-to-reach goal — though many of the wrestlers from the Pitman, Turlock, Denair and Hilmar programs are willing to sweat it out through various tournaments and dual meets for even the slimmest of possibilities.
There’s one particular wrestler from Turlock High that has the best chance, based on what he’s done during his prep career. That’s Fabian Garcia, the senior who’s looking to become his school’s first four-time state medalist. He came up short of a state title again last season, finishing sixth in the 119-pound class, which just provided him more reasons to be motivated in his final year.
“There’s nobody in our (wrestling) room that can come close to him,” Turlock coach Mike Contreras said. “He pretty much dominates everybody.”
Teammate Brandon Egleston also has the same state aspirations, especially after he settled for an eighth-place finish in Bakersfield in 2009. Last season, he struggled with moving up a couple weight classes, but he seems determined to not let that happen again in his last high school run.
Erick Parsons and Julian Talamante will also be key factors for the Bulldogs.
A few miles away from Turlock High is Pitman High, where the wrestling program has gained much respect since coach Adam Vasconcellos took over three seasons ago. Last season was the school’s best campaign, highlighted by beating Turlock for the first time in school history, winning a Section championship and sending two wrestlers to the state tournament.
This season, the Pride bring back one of their state qualifiers along with six returning Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Tournament wrestlers, including John England, Derrick Avila, Marcel Vega, Tyler Klinkhammer and Robert Vasquez. Andrew Perez has the best chance at state glory since he placed eighth in the state tournament last season.
“I think we have 10 guys with great opportunities to go to state,” Vasconcellos said, adding that he has nine wrestlers who are in the Masters rankings. “We set high goals for the season and there is a lot of time before league and a lot can happen. We need to work hard, stay focused and stay healthy.”
A few more miles from Pitman is Denair High, where coach Don Helnore and his staff have to deal with a much smaller group.
But out of nearly 20 wrestlers, two of them stand out: Dylan Souza and Nick LaFrancis. They’re practice partners with high expectations for themselves. Souza hopes to make it to the Masters tournament, while LaFrancis, a Masters wrestler two seasons ago, is determined to be the school’s first state wrestler since 1996, when Eddie Fuentes did it.
Traveling south is Hilmar High, where the wrestling program looks to be rebuilding this season. The Yellowjackets have 28 wrestlers, with 20 of them having never wrestled before.
Devin Azevedo, Tyler Junker, Antonio Aguilar and Jorge Aguilar are Hilmar’s top returners under longtime coach Dave Exline, who said he hired extra coaches to help with the development of their first-time wrestlers.
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