Clovis News

Three teams favored on mat

It's shaping up to be a wild three-team scramble for the Central Section Masters wrestling championship.

Yosemite Divisional champion Buchanan has the numbers, with a section-leading 11 wrestlers scheduled to take the mat Saturday at East Bakersfield, where wrestling starts at 9 a.m. with the finals scheduled for 6 p.m. And if rankings released Wednesday by thecaliforniawrestler.com hold to form, all 11 are expected to finish in the top seven and earn a berth in the March 6-7 CIF State Championships at Bakersfield's Rabobank Arena.

Sequoia-Sierra Division champion Selma has an intriguing blend of numbers (nine qualifiers) and quality (four wrestlers ranked first or second in the section).

Defending state champion Clovis is down in numbers from a year ago with only eight qualifiers, but it has a quality group as seven are ranked first or second in the section, best in the tournament.

It will be the first time this season the three section powers -- all ranked among the top six in the state -- have met in a traditional tournament format. The only time Buchanan, Selma and Clovis have been at the same event was the Zinkin Classic, which was a dual-meet tournament.

A look at the 14 weight classes:

103: Selma freshman sensation Alex Cisneros has been the man at 103s not only in the section, but across the state, winning titles at the prestigious Reno Tournament of Champions and Five Counties Invitational. It would be no surprise for Cisneros to reach the Masters final, where his most likely opponent would be Clovis freshman Daniel Gayton or Washington's David Rico, who pushed Cisneros in a 3-2 loss at the Sequoia-Sierra Divisional final.

112: Like Cisneros, Clovis North's Vince Rodriguez has been the class of the state most of the season. Looming on the opposite side of the bracket is Clovis West's Zach Zimmer, who was a state finalist at 103 pounds last season and the reason Rodriguez transferred from Clovis West to Clovis North last season. One obstacle neither will have to face is state third-ranked Madison Gambrell of Clovis, a state placer last season who didn't make it out of divisionals.

119: The field appears wide open. East Bakersfield's Peter Gonzales entered divisionals ranked No. 1 in the section, then watched Buchanan's Stephan Meredith top Hoover's Sonny Perez 5-4 in the final. All three could challenge for the title, as will Sequoia-Sierra champion A.J. Valles of Selma, a state finalist at 103 pounds as a freshman in 2007.

125: Lemoore's Brandon Rocha is a defending state finalist at 119 pounds. The Cal Poly recruit proved he is a threat to get to this year's state final at 125s with a title run at the Reno TOC in December. Rocha is ranked second in the state. The most prominent wrestlers standing between Rocha and a second straight Masters title are Clovis' Clinton McAlester, a state medalist last season, and Selma's Nick Pena, who won the Sequoia-Sierra title last weekend and finished sixth in the state last year.

130: This weight class sets up for Selma's No. 1 state-ranked Jose Mendoza to win not only Saturday, but March 7 in Bakersfield. Mendoza finished third in the state last year behind section rivals Justin Arredondo (Buchanan) and Stephen Weimer (Clovis), but wins at the Reno TOC and Five Counties have established the senior as the wrestler to beat this season. Madera South's Raul Estrada, who spent a portion of this season No. 1 in the state, figures to be Mendoza's biggest threat.

135: Centennial's Seth Hicks is top-ranked in the section and state -- a status backed up by his victory last weekend at divisionals -- to enter Masters as the clear-cut favorite. No other section wrestler is ranked among the state's top 8, but Clovis' Alec Dieter wrestled Hicks tough in a 4-2 loss in the divisional final, and Selma's Nathan Zarate will be a top challenger after winning the Sequoia-Sierra title.

140: After spending much of the season wrestling at 145 pounds, Lemoore's Nicholas Sierra has emerged as the class of the section five pounds lighter. He beat Bakersfield's Jonah Cruz -- who was No. 1 in the state until the latest poll released Wednesday -- 3-1 in the divisional final. Selma's Nick Escalera is the best of the Sequoia-Sierra division.

145: Two of the state's top three in this weight class -- Clovis' top-ranked Scott Sakaguchi and Washington's No. 3 Alex Rodriguez -- appear headed for a showdown, but it will come in the quarterfinals because Rodriguez stumbled at Sequoia-Sierra Divisionals and ended up third.

152: Clovis lost half of its 14 divisional qualifiers as it attempts to repeat as state champion, but Cameren Kelley could help compensate if he continues to perform as he did last week when he beat Clovis East's Vincent Rubio for the title. Bakersfield's Bryce Hammond, who entered divisionals top-ranked in the section and No. 5 in the state, is still a threat, as is Sequoia- Sierra champ Justin Lozano of Selma.

160: After last weekend's 1-minute, 26-second pin of Madera's James Cook, a state finalist at 152 pounds last season, Buchanan's Stephen West is the unquestioned favorite here. West, who was fourth at state last year, has been section and state top-ranked all season, but recently had Cook drop into the division from 171 pounds, where he spent the early part of the season No. 1 in the state. Kingsburg's Tyler Grandal was the Sequoia-Sierra champ.

171: Tulare's Dwight Flores took over the section's top ranking after Cook dropped to 160 and proved that status was justified last weekend with a victory at divisionals. But he was pushed by Clovis freshman Zach Nevills (3-1) in the final, and Sunnyside's Chris Heath also is a contender.

189: Clovis' Tommy Burriel, who came on strong and developed into a state placer last season, has been the class of the division all season. But Buchanan's Jake Gingold gave Burriel a tough match (5-4) in the divisional final, and those two could end up in the final again at Masters. Central's Rodolfo Juarez and Kingsburg's Wade Jackson (Sequoia-Sierra champ) also are contenders.

215: Bakersfield's Brian Schoene is top-ranked in the section, No. 4 in the state and coming off a title at divisionals. But he will be pushed by Buchanan's Holden Smith, who lost 5-4 in the final last week, Edison's Rykeem Yates and Sequoia-Sierra champ Michael Renteria of Washington.

285: East Bakersfield's Antonio Hernandez has spent much of the season as the section's top-ranked heavyweight, but the division is wide open after he qualified fifth out of divisionals. Buchanan's Kyle Papendorf beat Foothill's Angel Posada 4-1 in the final and Kerman's Teddy Furnish was Sequoia-Sierra champ.

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