The reemergence of one of the state's top wrestling programs took another important step Wednesday night.
Buchanan High rode pins from Esequiel Olivera, Peter An, Kai Dill, Zakary Levatino and Durbin Lloren Jr. to a 37-32 Tri-River Athletic Conference win over Clovis West in a dual between state and nationally ranked teams.
The Bears entered No. 5 in the state by The California Wrestler and No. 26 in the nation by Win Magazine, while the Golden Eagles are No. 3 in the state and No. 22 in the nation.
"You could feel the electricity in the air," Lloren said of a matchup between teams also ranked Nos. 33 (Clovis West) and 35 (Buchanan) nationally by Intermat. "We weren't nervous, just pumped up for it."
And Buchanan's excitement showed early on.
The Bears received a technical fall from Connor Francis at 160 pounds and falls from Olivera (170), An (182) and Dill (195) while building a 23-0 lead through four matches. Lloren's pin of Isack Espana at 120 built on Buchanan's lead, while Greg Gaxiola's 11-5 decision over Bobby Miguel at 132 guaranteed the Bears wouldn't be caught.
"It was good wrestling a nationally ranked team so we could see where we're at," An said. "We want to beat Clovis High and win a state championship."
Buchanan appears to be back among the elite programs in the state in their second season under Troy Tirapelle.
The Bears enjoyed an eight-year run under coach Dustin Riley that produced eight league championships, two Central Section titles and four state top-five finishes — including the 2006 CIF crown — between 2000-2007.
But after Riley stepped down following a state third-place finish in 2007, Buchanan had three coaches in four years before Tirapelle, the son of Clovis coach Steve Tirapelle, took over in 2012.
The Bears placed 19th and 18th at state in the seasons before Tirapelle's arrival. They were eighth last year and appear to be legitimate state title contenders this season.
"It's really not so much what we are showing the kids as much as what they are buying into," Tirapelle said. "Our kids wrestle a certain way. I don't see it as learning a bunch of moves as much as a strategy."
And that strategy?
Don't give up points.
"Defense wins championships, as they say," Tirapelle said. "If you don't give up any points, you can't lose.
"Defense is something all kids can do. We can wear kids down with our conditioning. It levels the field. Sometimes we're better athletically and sometimes we're not, but we still have to find a way to win."
Buchanan's next challenge comes Jan. 29 when it faces three-time defending state champion Clovis.
"If we come out like we did tonight, I feel we'll give them a good run," Lloren said.
Clovis West won seven of the 14 matches but received only two falls — from Bryce Morita at 108 and Chris Lane at 140.
The section's top two 152-pounders squared off, with the Golden Eagles' No. 1 Tyler Zimmer beating Abner Romero 3-0. In another marquee matchup, Clovis West's Michael Knoblauch, ranked No. 3 in the state at 126 pounds, defeated Buchanan's Jason De La Cruz (ranked No. 2 at 120), 9-1 at 126 pounds.
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