Pitman High won the team title for the first time at Thursday's Central California Conference Championships and qualified 12 wrestlers for the upcoming Divisional Championships, earning seven gold medals in the process.
It was the finish the Pride had planned for all season, but in didn't match exactly — Nick Valadez and Haydon Mattox were missing from the picture, their seasons ended due to injury.
“Nobody can replace Nick Valadez and Haydon Mattox. They started here as freshman and did every single thing I've asked them to do. So as happy as we are that these other kids can fill in, there's nothing that can replace those guys,” Pitman head coach Adam Vasconcellos said.
Despite losing two of its leaders, Pitman went seven for seven in the finals as Trevor Mattox (106), Isiah Perez (120), Adam Velasques (126), Angel Velasquez (132), Lorenzo Lewis (140), Gilbert Valadez (152) and Cristian Clementi (172) became league champions.
“We've focused on every kid in our room and it's never paid off more than this year,” Vasconcellos said. “We've had kids step in, place and qualify. So we're thankful to have the depth.”
Pitman didn't suffer alone, however. In a twist of fate, rival Turlock High also entered the tournament without two of its best wrestlers, Fabian Gaona (126) and Andrez Orozco (132), who failed to make weight. It was an unexpected end to the season for the pair of Masters hopefuls.
“It came as a surprise; nobody saw it coming...It kind of hurts because a lot of people were depending on him for what we're trying to do,” Turlock head coach Anthony Gonzalez said of Gaona. “And with Andy, I'm not sure what happened there. Him not making weight, he was never someone that we ever worried about. So him being over and not making it, that was another big hit because he was seeded first in this tournament.”
But like Pitman, Turlock responded to adversity with success. The Bulldogs finished fourth as a team, qualified eight wrestlers for the Divisional Championships and earned two individual championships with wins from first-year wrestler Julian Arteaga (220) and Rafael Magana (HVY).
“He actually lost to a lot of these people in the beginning. Just not knowing the basics, locking hands and stuff like that. Just in the last month, he's been really turning it on and impressing a lot of people.”Gonzalez said of Arteaga. “But everybody wrestled real tough. We had some tough losses, of course, but overall it was a good day.”
One of the brightest spots of the day for Turlock was Alex Oliveira (132) who before Thursday served as Turlock's JV 126-pounder. With the absence of Gaona, however, he was asked to move up to the ranks of Varsity where he finished second after losing to Velasquez in the only Pitman/Turlock finals match.
“When our '32 didn't show today, he came in and made it to the finals. People like that really stepping up helped the team,” Gonzalez said of Oliveira.
As for notable performances by Pitman's , Perez' cap to his freshman year in the CCC with a 1-0 finals win over state-ranked Tanner Browning of Golden Valley High stands out.
“Postseason is a different animal. You know, you're a freshman, first time in the postseason, wrestling a senior that went to State last year. It's pretty impressive,” Vasconcellos said of Perez. “He's mean, he's nasty, and he just gets after it.”
Seven days now separates the Pride and Bulldogs from the Divisional Championships at Del Oro High where the two schools hope to field several Masters qualifiers.
Along with its champions, Turlock will be taking Brady Egleston, Breck Jeffus, Dustine Lema, Isaac Perez and Uriel Villasenor.
“I've been saying it all year. We've got a young group of kids and they're working hard, and it's just making us excited because they're all just coming together,” Gonzales said. “I couldn't ask for more.”
The rest of Pitman's representatives include Colby Lankford, Anthony Carbajal, Quentin Hernandez, Julien Barrera and Jaime Villegas.
“I know some of these kids get fourth place and some of them kind of hang their heads. But we lost some close matches here,” Vasconcellos said. “It's a 13-man bracket and the top eight move on. So if you make it there, hopefully there's five kids you're better than. Our goal is to get our 13 kids through again.”