Boogaard: Clovis wrestling dominance keeps growing

The Fresno BeeJanuary 18, 2014 

Clovis' Nick Nevills beats Alex Redmond of Los Alamitos Saturday, March 2, 2013 in Bakersfield, Calif.

GARY KAZANJIAN — Fresno Bee Staff Photo Buy Photo

After selling hundreds of snowcones and pastries, helping make possible a $10,000 trip (without district funding) to the upper Midwest this weekend, Clovis High's wrestling program has made yet another national statement.

Ranked No. 3 nationally by Amateur Wrestling News a year after the Cougars finished No. 1 following a third straight state title, Clovis buzzed 2,500 miles to Alliance, Ohio, delivered 12 medalists, including two champions, scored 302 points and rocked the Top Gun Wrestling Tournament.

So I ask two questions.

First: Should Fresno State restore wrestling, wouldn't Steve Tirapelle be the perfect fit to run the program?

The state's most accomplished prep coach in the sport -- with six state titles and 13 top-five finishes in 16 years -- he'd bring instant credibility and be a magnet for local and state talent.

But, forget it, apparently.

"Absolutely not," the 62-year-old says when asked if he would accept the job, if offered. "I'm on the home stretch, baby. They'd need to get a young, energetic-type guy who would connect with the community and boosters."

So let's go to question No. 2: Given its local (22 Central Section titles), state (11 crowns) and national impact, is Clovis wrestling not the best show in the history of section sport, regardless of gender?

Who to compare?

Bakersfield High football and its 100 years of excellence, with a state-record 36 section crowns and a handful of state titles way back in the day? Wonderful.

Fresno High baseball? Another enduring achiever in the face of severe demographic shifts and, of course, producer of those late-'50s, Ellsworth-Maloney-Callison-Seaver teams so gifted the Warriors could -- and did -- whip then Fresno College. Amazing.

Still, says here Cougars wrestling is the choice because of dominance in a state of 1,500 schools and -- remember -- but one division for the team plaque at the end of the day.

Consider their latest performance. It came in a high-caliber, 43-team event staged for the 28th time in one of USA's hottest hotbeds for the sport.

And here marches in Clovis for the first time, begins the finals with a gold medal by a 106-pound freshman, Justin Mejia, and ends them with another by a senior heavyweight, Nick Nevills.

It was a 12-3 major decision victory by Nevills, who had won 9-1 in the semifinals. And that the two-time state champ didn't register a pin Saturday -- he has 122 in a four-year career -- spoke volumes for the quality of the tournament.

The Cougars returned home with medals in all but two weight classes, and the majority of their medalists were underclassmen.

They also received seconds from Khristian Olivas (132) and Isaiah Hokit (138), thirds from Tristan Gilliland (113), Josh Hokit (160), A.J. Nevills (182) and Matt Weiss (220), fourths from Julian Gaytan (120) and Dominic Kincaid (152). a fifth from Brody Brand (170) and a seventh from Lane Barnes (138). 

Such a volume of talent is the reason Clovis will be favored to break its own state record with a fourth straight title March 7-8 at Bakersfield's Rabobank Arena.

Mejia's the headliner of an enormously talented freshman class, so good, in fact, Tirapelle says the group could break state scoring records as seniors in 2017. Chances are he will no longer be in charge then. But the school is ahead of the game, having already named assistant Ben Holscher as co-head coach.

"We lock in a future great coach," Clovis athletic director Ed Schmalzel says, "give him the best mentor and gradually move the program to the young guy. Steve's not going to be around forever. Plus, this lightens his load and he's able to enjoy the fruits of his labor."

And never, it seems, has that been more enjoyable than now.

The reporter can be reached at or @beepreps on Twitter.

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