The Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Tournament, the final stop before every high school wrestler’s apex dream—the State Tournament.
Pitman, Turlock, Hilmar, and Delhi High each entered the first day of Masters competition with State hopefuls, but after the dust settled on Friday only the Pride, Bulldogs, and Yellowjackets earned the right to continue their wrestling season past Masters.
For Pitman, Nick Valadez (132), Logan Wolfley (160), Nick Roditis (220), and Eric Bejeran (HWY) have advanced into today’s semifinal round and secured a spot at State.
As for Turlock and Hilmar, each qualified a wrestler for State — Albino Orozco (170) and Antonio Melo (182), respectively—and will also be competing in today’s semifinals.
The Pride, who had eight representatives at Masters, and Bulldogs, who had seven representatives, have wrestlers who are still eying State as well, however. Pitman’s Lorenzo Lewis (126) and Turlock’s Rafael Herrera (126) will have to battle through today’s consolation rounds to crack the top seven after finishing Friday with a 2-1 record.
“It’s huge. It sets the tone for the kids coming up through our program,” Pitman head coach Adam Vasconcellos said of qualifying four wrestlers for State, a school record.
Valadez earned his spot in today’s semifinal match against Jesuit High’s Alex Elko with three victories via decision over Jesus Vega of Waterford High, Bobby Ehnan of Vacaville High—who is ranked third in the section—and Daniel Adbate of Central Catholic High.
Wolfley also had a tough road to today’s semifinal match as he put down Jack Morris of Placer High, Quentin Cardoza of Vacaville, and Justin Barnes—who is ranked second in the section—all via decision. Wolfley’s quarterfinal match against Barnes was particularly exciting as the Pride grappler battled back from a four point deficit with a minute left in regulation for a 9-6 victory.
"He found a way to win, and that’s just the type of kid he is," Vasconcellos said. "He’s always wanted it, he’s been wrestling for a long time, and one of his life’s goals was to make it to the State Tournament.”
Roditis earned slim victories against Hayden Hovis of Bella Vista High and Anthony Hernandez of Vintage High before beating Austin Reynolds of El Camino High in the quarterfinal by the slimmest of margins, 1-0, to set himself up against Dominic Freeshe of Escalon in today’s semifinal match.
Bejeran pinned Darren Taylor of Rosemont High, won a decision against Cyrus Javan of Vacaville Christian High, and eked out a one point victory over Mike McCauley of Vacaville to put him in today’s semifinal match against Jake Michu of Pase Robles High who also happens to be the number one ranked heavyweight the section.
“They showed up this summer. They worked hard and they bought into what we’ve been telling them,” Vasconcellos said of Roditis and Bejeran.
Wolfley, Valadez, and Roditis are each 1-1 all time with their respective semifinal opponents.
“It’s definitely a relief (to have qualified for State), but our kids are hungry. They’re talking about the finals; they want to make the finals. They’re not done just because they’ve qualified,” Vasconcellos said.
Turlock’s Orozco emerged as his school’s most successful wrestler of the day with dominating performances. After defeating Joe Camp of Downey High 13-0, the senior Bulldog earned back-to-back pins over John Connely of Woodland High and Brandon Ajari of Benecia High. Orozco will now face a familiar opponent in TJ Shamblin of Pondorosa High in today’s semifinal match.
“That’s exactly what we expected. I didn’t know he was going to pin his guys, but I expected him to be where he’s at,” Turlock head coach Mike Contreras said of Orozco. “We wrestled that Pondo(rosa) kid last week and we beat him, so we’re feeling pretty good where we’re at.”
Turlock very nearly landed another wrestler in the semifinal round as Herrera scorched through his first two matches with first period pins over Jordan Jensen of Granite Bay High and Nick Sanfibanos of Ceres High before falling to Branson Vu of Rodriguez High via a 10-5 decision.
“He got to our legs, got a good takedown, and he controlled our hands pretty well and put us to our back for the near fall. Once he got ahead he held on to win; it was a pretty frustrating match for us,” Contreras said of Herrera’s quarterfinal match. “But that’s ok. Ralfy’s battled through a consolation bracket before, so we’re hoping he’ll bounce back.”
Unlike their Central California Conference counterparts, the ‘Jackets of the Trans Valley League entered Friday with only two representatives, Melo and Elijah Moon (160).
While Moon was eliminated with a 1-2 record, Melo shut all three of his opponents out en route to today’s semifinal match against Skylar Gonzalez of Rocklin High, who also happens to be ranked fifth in the state.
Melo dispatched Ty Bowden of Golden Valley High via a second period pin before defeating Alex LeBaron of El Dorado High 6-0 and Vishane Sagal of Oak Ridge High 5-0 in the quarterfinals.
For Melo, qualifying for State is a goal four years in the making. For Hilmar, he’s the first wrestler in 21 years to qualify for State.
“It’s nice to put that behind us. Now we can really concentrate on the matches we have left to wrestle,” Hilmar head coach Bruce Scott said. “His weight class is pretty strong, so I can’t say I expected him to dominate, but I thought he was very capable of dominating. And he did just that, we was very dominant today.”
Delhi entered Friday with only one representative, freshman Jesse Flores (HWY). After claiming the Southern Athletic League title and placing second at the Division V SJS Tournament—where he suffered his only loss of the season in the finals round—Flores, along with his coach Ray Cedres, was determined to win at least one match at Masters.
While Flores was pinned in the first period of the first round by McNair High’s Elijah Cisneros, he was able to bounce back and defeat Steven Andrews of Rio Linda High via a 10-6 decision before being eliminated by Saul Meneses of Del Oro High in his third match.
“We wrestled well; we just got caught in a couple moves he hasn’t seen before,” Cedres said.
Accustomed to dominating SAL opponents with his size, Flores was not only forced to adjust to a higher caliber of wrestling, but also to the fact that he was not the biggest man in his bracket.
Still, Flores’ performance in his second match was a sign of things to come for the Delhi wrestler, according to Cedres.
“He finally got aggressive in the second match. We’ve been on him this whole week. This is a different caliber of wrestling; you have to be aggressive,” Cedres said. “Once he established his aggressiveness in backing the other kid down, that’s when he was back to being Jesse.”
With the season now over, Flores and Cedres are already planning for next year.
“When we were walking up the steps to leave the arena, he told me, and I’m quoting him, ‘I’m going to work harder so I can get here next year,’” Cedres said. “He got a taste of this tournament and he knows what he needs to work on to get better. If he continues to work hard, everything else will come for him. He realizes now from this tournament what needs to be worked on.”