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Pitman’s Austin reigns supreme at CIF State Wrestling Championships
Pride finish with four placers; Bertalotto on the podium for Turlock; Capote receives prestigious CIF honor
Pitman wrestling Austin
Reality sets in for Pitman sophomore Baya Austin as she gets her hand raised after defeating Gilroy’s Tamara Grace by a 7-0 decision in the finals of the 130-pound bracket at the 2024 CIF State Wrestling Championships in Bakersfield on Saturday evening (CHRIS MORA@ChrisMoraPhoto).

Her name is Yzabella Austin. Her family and friends call her “Baya.” Now, she will forever be known by all as a California state wrestling champion.

On Saturday evening inside the Mechanics Bank Arena in Bakersfield, the Pitman High School sophomore muscled her way to a 7-0 decision over Gilroy’s Tamara Grace in the girls’ 130-pound finals to become the fifth state wrestling champion in the school’s nearly 22-year history, joining Lilly Freitas in 2019 and 2020, Juan Mora and Alana Ontiveros in 2021 and Lilly Avalos last year.

“It hasn't really sunk in too much yet. I just haven't got to absorb it all yet,” Austin admitted. “But it’s definitely really exciting for me.”

Austin struck first against Grace midway through the first period with a takedown. She extended her lead to 4-0 in the second period after starting out on the bottom and working a reversal. She scored another takedown with 10 seconds to go before a discouraged Grace was penalized for stalling as time expired.

“I just didn't want to underestimate her,” Austin said of Grace. “I was focusing on just wrestling that entire match. When I was on top in that third period, I realized she wasn’t opening up. I was getting to work any move I wanted, and that's when I felt her giving up and balling up at the end. It was definitely a shock and a huge relief hearing that final whistle blow, especially compared to last year when I heard the whistle blow and I had to lower my hand.

Pitman wrestling Ontiveros
Pitman sophomore Mason Ontiveros tries tirelessly to score against Poway’s Angelo Posada in the 175-pound final at the 2024 CIF State Wrestling Championships in Bakersfield on Saturday evening (CHRIS MORA@ChrisMoraPhoto).

Last year, as Austin referred to, she was pinned by Fargo All-American Carissa Qureshi of Marina High just over a minute into the opening period of the 126-pound finals. It fueled a fire that she kept lit over the course of the last 12 months.

“Last year, going to state as a freshman and being a runner-up helped me a lot,” she said. “It showed me what to expect and it showed me to not be intimidated by the big stage and not to worry about all the lights and all the fans cheering. I learned to just focus on one match at a time and wrestling a full match each time out.”

Like her finals match Saturday, Austin displayed similar dominance earlier in the day in her semifinal clash with Elk Grove’s Skye Schneider. 39 seconds into the second period, she worked her way to a fall victory.

“She’s a beast,” said head coach Adam Vasconcellos. “She’s such a hard worker. She deserves to have her banner up in our gym.”

Austin hopes that her championship banner in the Pitman High gymnasium has more than just the year 2024 screen-printed on. She has already set a goal for herself to become a multiple-time state champion.

“I definitely feel way more accomplished, and I’m definitely ready to work harder. I’m getting ready for our offseason schedule and I’m ready to accomplish more in-season after that,” she said. “After a match, I'm never thinking I did good. My coaches tell me all the time that I’m not there yet, saying I haven’t really reached my full potential. I agree with that. I have a lot more left to prove.”

Also competing Saturday evening for the Pride was girls’ 100-pounder Lily Dizon and boys’ 175-pounder Mason Ontiveros.

Like Austin, Ontiveros is a sophomore and a returning state qualifier. Last year, he placed fifth at 170 pounds. On Saturday, he broke through to the 175-pound finals after pulling away from Buchanan’s Branson John late in their semifinal meeting. Heading into the third period in a 4-4 tie, Ontiveros strung together an escape, a takedown and near fall to secure a 10-5 decision. In the finals against Poway’s Angelo Posada, Ontiveros couldn’t generate any offense, dropping the match by a 5-1 decision. Posada scored all five of his points in the first two periods after a pair of takedowns and an escape, while Ontiveros’ lone point came by way of a stalling call.

“You know, I put up a fight,” Ontiveros said, as optimistic as he usually is. “He (Posada) was just a smarter wrestler, but there's always ways to learn from those mistakes. I’ll be back next year or the next time I meet up with him and give him a different look… He's a very lengthy kid and I couldn't work around him. But I’m proud of the fact that I just went out there and gave him a hard match.”

Ontiveros is hoping that the third time's a charm as he is already looking ahead to his junior season.

Lily Dizon Finals
Pitman freshman Lily Dizon sizes up her opponent, Central Catholic’s Jillian Wells, during her 4-1 loss in the girls’ 100-pound finals at the 2024 CIF State Wrestling Championships in Bakersfield on Saturday evening (CHRIS MORA@ChrisMoraPhoto).

Meanwhile, Dizon, a freshman, earned a spot in the finals after pinning Bell Gardens’ Katherine Hernandez with 26 seconds remaining into the second period of their semifinal match. In the finals, she squared off with Central Catholic’s Jillian Wells, a grappler she has become all too familiar with. Last week at the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters tournament, Wells defeated Dizon 4-1 in the semifinals. The end result was the same Saturday, with Wells using her length against Dizon to squeak out with another 4-1 decision. The match was knotted at one heading into the decisive third period, where Wells scored an escape and a takedown to take home the gold medal.

Dizon admitted that the nerves of a state championship match affected her performance, but vowed to come back stronger for her sophomore season.

“It was a good experience for me to be there as a true freshman in that environment,” Dizon said. “All the eyes on you and the spotlight, the nerves just really got to me, but I still feel like I wrestled OK. I just couldn't get to my shots. She had pretty good defense, and when I was on bottom, she had pretty good top work. But ​​I think next year will be a better year for me since I'll be more prepared for what the big stage is like at state.”

Also placing at the tournament was Turlock’s Jeremiah Bertalotto and Pitman’s Brodie Johnson.

Competing in the 138-pound bracket, Bertalotto lost Friday in the Round of 16 by a 6-0 score to Buchanan’s Gavin Bauder. The senior then dominated the consolation brackets, winning his first three matches by decision. In his fourth match, he dropped a 4-2 decision to Kingsburg’s Alek VanBebbe. In the seventh place match, he outlasted Wyatt Lewis of Clovis, pulling out a 3-2 decision.

“This year was different from the other years because I knew I wasn’t gonna get another chance to place since it’s my senior year, so I gave it my all,” Bertalotto said.

The Bulldog, who will continue his wrestling and academic careers at Minot State University in North Dakota alongside twin brother Isaiah, added that placing seventh in the tournament and his Central California Athletic League Most Valuable Player honor in football has been his proudest achievements to date.

Over in the 165-pound bracket, Johnson made a similar run. Following his 5-0 quarterfinal loss to Collin Guffey of Granite Hills, the junior won his first consolation before dropping a tight 2-1 decision to Poway’s Aliaksandr Kikiniou. He finished in eighth place after losing a 6-2 decision to Vacaville’s Arjun Nagra in the seventh place match.

Though Johnson didn’t achieve his ultimate goal of claiming gold in his division and felt as the 165-pound bracket seeding was inconsistent, he expressed pride in the fact that he persevered through adversity on and off the mats this past year. Johnson, a junior who transferred from Oakdale this summer after allegedly being assaulted by former Oakdale wrestling coach Trent Noon last May and having experienced bullying by peers amid the fallout, expressed gratitude to the Pitman coaching staff that includes Vasconcellos and his two brothers, Matthew and Cody.

“I’m really proud of placing and thankful for my coaches,” he said. “Overall, facing the adversity I had to face throughout the season, transferring from Oakdale to here, I’m proud of that… Unlike over there, these coaches want the best for you. It’s a great environment. I’ll learn from this year’s mistakes (at state) and come back stronger.”

Pitman state wrestling Capote
Although she didn’t end up on the podium, Pitman 105-pound senior Lexie Capote was given the Pursuing Victory with Honor award by the California Interscholastic Federation, given to student-athletes who exemplify trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and good citizenship while promoting sportsmanship and good character within their program (CHRIS MORA@ChrisMoraPhoto).

Another local grappler who took home hardware was Pitman’s 105-pound senior Lexie Capote. Although she didn’t end up on the podium, she was given the Pursuing Victory with Honor award by the California Interscholastic Federation. The award is given to student-athletes who exemplify trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and good citizenship while promoting sportsmanship and good character within their program. Capote is the third Pride wrestler to be given the honor, joining Logan Wolfley in 2014 and Joseph La Rosa in 2017.

“It makes me feel good to know that the hard work I’ve been putting in pays off in a different form,” Capote said. “It makes me happy to realize that I’ll have these characteristics for the rest of my life to help me as an adult and for jobs and things like that.”

The award was also significant for Capote as she has dealt with adversity throughout her four years of high school. As a freshman at Patterson High, the wrestling season was scrapped with the arrival of Covid-19. She qualified for the state tournament her sophomore year, where she failed to place. After transferring to Pitman in the offseason, she was ineligible to compete for the entirety of her junior year.

“I feel like I had a pretty good season considering the hand that I was dealt with during my wrestling career,” she said. “I’m just really grateful to be able to end my high school wrestling career with a good coaching staff and really good teammates… I’m happy I was able to end it out on a real positive note.”

Positivity was also ringing within each of the Vasconcellos brothers. Of this year’s state qualifiers, Capote is the only one graduating. Also, there are only a handful of grapplers from their dual lineup set to graduate this summer.

“They’re all coming back. And that’s not even counting some of the JV kids we have waiting in the wings,” Matthew said. “We’re feeling good about where we’re at. We’re building something good here.”