Turlock High’s December schedule was brutal. Over the span of three weeks, Bulldog wrestlers competed in the Clovis West Shootout, the Reno Tournament of Champions, and the Zinkin Classic; gaining valuable experience against top level competition.
But while coaches value lessons learned on the mat wrestlers tend to value medals—those tangible pieces of achievement that last with time. Turlock’s wrestlers held their own and tested their mettle in the three tournaments but only a couple managed to walk away with hardware.
That wasn’t the case during the 21st annual Bulldog Classic on Saturday.
Ten Bulldogs finished the day with medals around their neck— two in sixth place, two in second place, and five in first place of their respective weight classes.
“I was happy with our kids; they did a good job,” Turlock’s head coach Mike Contreras said. “It was a good confidence booster for the boys to see that they’re good wrestlers, they’ve just been wrestling really good competition.”
Freshman Brady Egleston and senior Trevor Gray were Turlock’s sixth place finishers while juniors Albino Orozco and Ricco McCombs settled for silver after close finals matches. Senior Jason Valdovinos had a spectacular day at 120 pounds, recording three pins and a technical fall on his way to gold, and Isaac Bertalotto continued his sophomore campaign at 138 pounds by decimating his competitors.
“Jason just ran through the tournament,” Contreras said.
Turlock’s senior big men, 220 pounder Ricky Flores and heavyweight Ricardo Garcia, again asserted their strength on the mat with their championship efforts, putting them at the top of Turlock’s list with the most season wins, but it was the 132 pound junior Rafael Herrera that really made a statement on Saturday.
Trailing 5-0 in the final and struggling from bottom position, Herrera battled back to push the match into overtime where he completed his comeback with a takedown late into the period for the 11-9 victory and his second medal of the year.
“That weight class is pretty tough, but he’s got seven wins in a row now so he’s picking up steam,” Contreras said of Herrera. “He didn’t quit, he kept working hard, and his conditioning paid off.”
Turlock’s individual efforts led to a landslide team victory of 207 points compared to second place De La Salle High’s 150 ½ points. Local programs Hilmar and Denair High were also in the mix on Saturday, finishing 13th and 20th as a team, respectively.
Of the nine Yellowjackets who entered the tournament, two wound up in the finals. Juniors Jesus Izazaga (195) and Antonio Melo (220) both received silver medals for their efforts. Melo nearly earned a first place finish but lost a close 6-4 match to Turlock’s Flores.
"He was chasing but couldn’t quite catch up,” Hilmar’s head coach Bruce Scott said of Melo. “It was a hard fought match.”
“And Jesus wrestled extremely well until that finals match,” he added. “He’s shown dramatic improvement; I’m very pleased with his progress.”
Both wrestlers are expected to move down a weight class for future competition.
Only one Coyote made an appearance in the championship rounds for Denair. Senior heavyweight Kristopher Waldon climbed his bracket over the 11 hour day to finish in third place and bring a medal home to Denair.
Turlock, Hilmar, and Denair’s wrestlers are now re-setting their focus for league competition. Turlock will host Atwater High today for the beginning of the Central California Conference schedule, Hilmar travels to Ripon High for today’s dual, and Denair is set to face Mariposa High.
“We still need to do some work with some guys with basics,” Scott said. “But I think the tournament at least prepared the team. Ripon’s the defending champs so we’re going to need to be ready.”
“These guys are really good wrestlers,” Contreras said of his boys. “We’ve been hit by some injuries and we lost our highest ranked wrestler; but we should be able to stay in any dual meet.”