It doesn't get any tougher than this anywhere else in the state:
Central High's Javier Gasca and Clovis' Daniel Gaytan, the state's Nos. 2-3 119-pound wrestlers, will clash today during the Central Section Masters Championships at Buchanan.
We're not talking about a projected finals matchup here, but a first-round showdown that will immediately send the loser into the consolation bracket and an uphill battle to qualify for the March 4-5 CIF State Championships. The winner, meanwhile, stays alive in a bracket where state No. 1-ranked Stevan Knoblauch of Clovis West looms on the other side.
The quality and depth of area wrestling, like that on display in the 119-pound division, will be rewarded as the California Interscholastic Federation has added an eighth automatic qualifier to the state championships out of today's tournament. Wrestling starts at 9 a.m. with the finals set for 6 p.m.
The Central Section, which features five of the top-eight ranked teams in the state and six No. 1-ranked individuals, could even get a ninth qualifier into the state championships for any weight classes if the Oakland Section doesn't fill.
"It's a formula: If you perform, you get more. If you don't perform, one gets taken from you," Clovis assistant Adam Tirapelle said.
"The reason we get eight is we have a lot of tough guys. You could have a legit shot to medal at state as a fifth- or sixth-place finisher in this tournament. Guys could medal who finish as low as eighth. That's a testament to the wrestling in this section."
Today's tournament allows the nation's seventh- and eighth-ranked teams in Clovis and Bakersfield, respectively, to lock horns again as each positions for a run at the state team title. The Cougars have all 14 of their wrestlers alive, while the Drillers have 10 left. But Bakersfield is perceived to have a better top-end group, with six wrestlers ranked among the top four in the state compared to Clovis' four.
A year ago, Clovis entered with a tournament-best 12 wrestlers, but ended up finishing third at the state championships behind Bakersfield, which had 11 wrestlers, and Selma, which had five.
Tournament features five of state's top-eight ranked teams (No. 1 Bakersfield, No. 2 Clovis, No. 3 Selma, No. 4 Clovis West and No. 8 Lemoore) and six No. 1-ranked individuals (Clovis West's Stevan Knoblauch, 119; Selma's Alex Cisneros, 125; Lemoore's Isaiah Martinez, 140; Bakersfield's Bryce Hammond, 160; Clovis West's Nikko Reyes, 171; and Clovis' Nick Nevills, 285.